This month in the garden
December in the Garden
The shortest day of 2021 is fast approaching even though winter doesn’t seem to be interested in showing up this year. We continue with our cycle in the garden; plant peas and garlic if you haven´t already and it´s still possible to do a final sowing of habas. Carrots, lettuce, beetroot and parsnips can be direct sown, as can radishes and salad leaves. Prune any chilli, pepper, and aubergine plants that are still alive back to two thirds to see if they survive the winter. If winter does come and we get some decent rain, slugs and snails will be very active, so protect tender young carrot tops by sprinkling wood ash around the sowings or by covering the rows with netting or agricultural fleece. Keep an eye on the brassicas too until they are big enough to survive a snail attack.
In mid November a young French chap offered to help me in the garden. “How long has the veggie garden been abandoned for?” was the first question he asked as we set out on our day´s work. Shocked, I glanced quickly around the garden, my pride dented. What I saw wasn´t exactly Charles Dowding´s Instagram feed but it was by no means an abandoned garden. Yes, the dried up bean plants clinging to the bamboo poles didn´t look great, but those dried pods hold the seeds for next year´s crop. The unruly falling over yacon stalks looked pretty messy but under the ground their tubers will keep getting bigger and sweeter until we harvest them after the first frost. The tatty sweet potato vines weren´t much to look at either but they are alive and swelling underground. And it is worth holding on to those raggedy looking tomato plants; the last green tomatoes will make a delicious chutney. We set to work clearing out the pumpkin patch which to the untrained eye looked like a big jumble of weeds and dead vines but we found a load of giant pumpkins that had made a run for it and were hiding in the long grass. Those invasive summer grasses are so easy to pull out this time of year so we cleared out the pumpkin patch in no time. With the old plants pulled up and replaced with sowings of garlic and habas the rows soon looked neat and tidy.
A productive vegetable garden doesn´t always look fabulous, and especially so when seed production is incorporated. Plants grown to seed need to kept in the ground longer and some go long past the point of being recognisable as the vegetables we eat. Carrots, leeks, parsnips, broccoli and lettuces in their seed production stage are as far from the edible part of the cycle as a butterfly is from a caterpillar. A garden grown only for aesthetic purposes is a far cry from a full cycle food and seed production operation.
It can feel disappointing though to look at our own gardens sometimes, especially after a long hard summer when there is so much clearing up to do. Don´t despair, there are some tricks we can employ to give a general feeling of tidiness. Clearly defined lines around the edges of the beds give the impression of things being under control. Strim around the beds and clear the pathways at ground level; cut away anything that is encroaching onto the path and also prune any branches that are crossing into the path to give you a clear line of sight and freedom of movement. A top dressing of manure, compost or leaf mulch can make an empty bed look neat and ripe for planting. Beds that overwhelm us can be covered over with a sheet of plastic until we have the energy to clear them out. And be selective with the parts of the garden you photograph for your Instagram feed. I bet Charles Dowding is.