Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Preparing for Winter


Autumn is a very important time in the gardening calendar as it is this time we assess the results of the seasons work so we can plan for the next year. It is also the time to get overwintering outdoor crops tidied up before winter sets in and prepare those requiring winter storage. Then there is the winter digging, fruit tree and bush pruning and before long the leaves will have started to fall.
In fact its quite weird and very unusual, but the seasons seem to be normal. Autumn leaves are falling in autumn instead of early winter, snow is falling at low levels in some places, summer bedding would appear to be finished and the rain has stopped. I cannot remember much wet weather during the tattie picking season, though it was often frosty in the mornings. Then as usual thousands of geese flying in formation overhead are making their way up the Tay estuary. Now, this is autumn.
Allotment work

The cold weather is just what we need to sweeten up the winter cabbage, leeks, kale, Brussel sprouts, swede turnips, Swiss chard and my four parsnips that grew from a whole packet of seeds. Next year I will definitely change the variety and supplier.
Last year I left my beetroot in the ground rather than lift for storage and even though we had a very cold winter they came to no harm, so I will try the same again this year, but earth them up a wee bit to give the roots some protection from frosts.
It is a good idea to try to complete winter digging, adding manure or compost, before the end of the year, but this usually depends on good weather so the soil is not too wet to walk on. Any land sown down to a green manure crop such as mustard must be dug over immediately the first flowers appear otherwise they may set seed and end up being a real nuisance.
Gladioli and chrysanthemums have now finished so they can be lifted and stored for next year. Gladioli are dried off and stored in a cool box in dry sand or dry soil in a frost free shed. Chrysanthemum stools are boxed up and kept moist in a cold but frost free greenhouse over winter.

My strawberry varieties Symphony and Florence have both had three fruiting years, so now is the time to replace them from runners. They have produced a lot of very strong healthy runners so I can afford to give the new strawberry bed on freshly prepared and composted ground special treatment. Rows are spaced three feet apart, but I can afford to make each row a double row six inches apart and space the plants up each row at six inch spacings. This way I will establish a thick row in the first year to give a far heavier crop than traditional planting distances.

Winter Storage

Pumpkins have been lifted, washed and are now stored as an ornamental feature in our utility room where it is not too warm. They will be used fresh for fantastic soups up till next April, then any remaining will have the flesh scooped out and frozen for use later. The seeds will be used for next years crop.
Onions have been dried off and stored in nets hung up in the garage.
Carrots are lifted and stored in between dry straw and covered over with soil to keep them frost free.
Potatoes are now all lifted, dried, sorted out and stored in boxes in a cool but frost free spot.
Apples have now all been harvested, even my Bramleys, sorted out and stored in cardboard trays in the garage. The Discovery variety is finished so now we are eating the Fiesta. Red Falstaff and Red Devil will be stored a bit longer to ripen up.
The freezers are packed with enough fruit and vegetables to keep a large family well fed for well over a year. French beans, broad beans, (it makes a brilliant winter soup) and the best of our sweet corn crop are all frozen and surplus kale leaves get frozen as this makes it easier to break them up for soups without losing any of their nutritional value.
When you add soft fruit to the freezer such as strawberries, rasps, red currants, black currants, gooseberries, saskatoons and brambles it makes sense to pack them in square shaped plastic containers to maximise space and minimise empty air space.
Rhubarb, surplus pears and plums which do not store well can also be frozen to be used throughout the rest of the year.
The latest health trend to use any surplus fruit is in a delicious smoothie. This retains the healthy properties of the fruit or vegetables and can be taken as a food or thick drink. They can also be used in place of cream for summer puddings. Our favourite smoothie at present is made with our Aronia berries. This new berry crop is also called the chokeberry as the fresh fruit is astringent if eaten raw, but easily loses this when cooked. As far as superfood status goes the aronia ranks near the top of the list having ten times as much anti-oxidants as a blueberry. As well as smoothie it makes a great jam and can be juiced for a drink with some sugar added.


Geraniums are easily overwintered as rooted cutting taken early in October and put in small pots. Keep them cool and don't over water, but if you wish to build up stock then water and feed oftener and grow in a light warm greenhouse or windowsill. Take the tops out for cuttings as soon as big enough, then take another cutting from the second cutting once it has put on a bit of growth. Grow them fast and repeat the process. It is possible to get ten plants from one plant by late spring.
I will be sowing my Meconopsis, (Himalayan blue poppy) now that it has been in the fridge for three months. It will remain outdoors to complete its stratification period and hopefully germinate in spring.
My saskatoon seed and now Aronia also get stratified before they will germinate. Select good berries at harvest time and squeeze them out of the flesh as soon as possible as the flesh contains germination inhibiting hormones. Wash them and use a kitchen roll to remove the worst of the moisture then store them in moist kitchen roll in the fridge. Do not let them dry out. Sow the seed outdoors in a prepared seedbed or in containers and keep these outside to weather. Germination should occur in spring. However this year my saskatoon variety Smoky has started to germinate. This is October so I do not know if the young seedlings will survive the winter so Smoky will go into my cold greenhouse for a wee bit of protection.

Spring bedding

Now that autumn appears to be with us most of my summer display of bedding plants in beds, tubs and hanging baskets is over. My geraniums are still colourful, so I will leave them alone for another week, and my tuberous begonias still think it is summer. They are still brilliant so no harm will come to them at this stage, even if I have bags of tulips, hyacinths and crocus eager to get planted.
Tubs of begonias will be replaced with a mixture of polyanthus underplanted with scented hyacinths. Smaller pots and hanging baskets will be planted with winter pansies and some crocus, and my main flower beds will be planted with wallflower grown from seed on my allotment, and a mixture of Darwin Hybrid tulips once I finally decide the geraniums are past their best.


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