Monday, 16 December 2013



I had intended to write up a very pleasant article of a dry sunny day gathering up loads of fresh vegetables from my allotment. However that only lasted one day as overnight storms came down from the north and winter arrived in a great hurry. The weather plays a huge role in writing about gardening as it is very unreliable and changes happen suddenly. Every year has a different tale to tell from severe gales, frost and snow, constant rain, then heat waves, drought and hose pipe bans.

Warm sunny December days

However I did have a lovely day in early December in full sun, with no wind or rain to hinder the late harvest. Beetroot was still perfect and summer turnip Purple Top Milan sown late had produced small but perfect roots so we have not yet started on our row of winter Swede turnips. Autumn cabbage has also been excellent so as yet the later maturing January Kings still await the first cutting. I had difficulty lifting the huge parsnips which were a good thickness, rust free and very long. Late sown lettuce Arctic King had large tender hearts and other leafy salads such as rocket added to the variety.
Leeks are always essential in winter, as are a picking of Brussels Sprouts Wellington and curly kale.
All the roots and leeks got washed on site from the rain filled water barrel then left in the sun to dry off.  A cold task, but at least I didn’t have to break the ice to get to the water.
It is these precious moments that make gardening a great pleasure.
Then once back home it was into the wine buckets giving the latest brew a good stir to keep the yeasts on their toes. We had such a huge crop of dessert apples that I started five demijohns of apple wine in October. This is now slowly fermenting away very happily, but once the Bramley cooking apples got harvested and sorted we realised that we could never use them all so another batch of wine was planned with 36 lbs of apples. This got supplemented with 12 lbs of grapes from my outdoor Brant and greenhouse Black Hamburg vines. This should give me six demijohns of wine and as I have never tried this mixture before the future should be very interesting.

Winter arrives with gale force winds

Just when you think life is so wonderful, you realise it is just too good to last. Overnight the gales arrived in UK, coupled with rain and snow bringing warm sunny days to an abrupt end.
The strong gusts of wind proved more than my greenhouse could stand and twelve panes of glass got shattered as the structure buckled in the gale force winds. Fortunately I had just harvested all my grapes, but my winter salad leaves and Cape Gooseberries suffered badly as the next few days were quite frosty and all the protection has gone.
The grape vine plants however are quite hardy as long as they get a chance to harden off slowly, so I am hoping they will survive. One whole side of the greenhouse has been demolished, so it will not be a patch up job and with the structure now twisted, most of the glass will have to be removed to see if the metal can be straightened up. Broken glass strewn all over the garden will need to be cleared before it gets lost under falling leaves as it can be a huge hazard as you are always handling the soil. However the gales have brought down most of the deciduous tree and shrub leaves apart from some shrub roses and my willows.
The rest of the garden survived just fine. I worried for the tall eucalyptus in full leaf which really bent severely in the gale, but they are very tough and flexable and now appear totally unaffected.
The cold snap brought in a dusting of snow and the frost iced up paths and roads, but as this is just the start of winter it is perfect for hardening up plants.
Looking on the positive side, a light frost will firm up the soil surface to allow winter digging to proceed without boots collecting mud, and the exercise keeps you warm.

Plant of the week

Spindle bush, Euonymus europaeus is a very hardy deciduous large shrub or small tree with brilliant scarlet autumn colour. The very attractive fruit last into early winter starting off as bright red capsules which open to reveal orange seeds. It is easy to grow but it can get quite large so is perfect for large gardens, and the edges of shelter belts and woodland fringes.


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