Gardening Diary DECEMBER: week 1
IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN
Throughout the autumn, digging the garden has been one your prime tasks, so by now you should be well ahead with it. You should also have been digging in plenty of farmyard manure,, or other , bearing in mind that most vegetables prosper in enriched by well-rotted organic manure that was added in the previous autumn. The work will continue as more crops are cleared and more land becomes vacant.
Now is a good time to consider which of next year’s crops will benefit from being sown or planted in trenches lined with a layer of farmyard manure at the bottom: runner beans, celery andfor example. Start digging those trenches now if you did not do so last week, for after Christmas the ground may be hard-frozen for weeks, and then the rush of jobs in early spring will arrive and catch you unprepared.
As the crops are cleared you should be giving your attention to those crops that are to succeed them, and so on to planning or adapting your rotation plan. It is worth remembering that one of the best crops to succeed celery is, which find the thorough cultivation and the fine tilth, as well as the generous manuring well beneath the surface, very much to their liking. Therefore, reserve the celery patch for next year’s onions.
Now is a convenient time for planting two unusual kinds of onions, which you might wish to try. The Welsh onion, which comes from Asia, not Wales, is an extremely hardy type of onion which never forms a bulb but is grown for its greens. Plant it in a sheltered corner and it will produce a salad crop right through the year. It is a perennial, as is the tree onion, also known as the Egyptian onion, which is another misnomer, for it comes from North America. This is the onion which forms clusters of tiny bulbs at the top of the flower stalks—and a very hot flavour they have. Like all onions, it appreciates good soil, and it is also very hardy. When planting, give some protection against birds, for they are apt to pull at the young shoots and lift the onions out of the ground.
You will probably be bringing in, a few roots at a time, for forcing indoors, although forcing it outdoors is also a possibility. You are, of course, more affected by the weather and the process takes longer, but it can be satisfactory. Throw up a ridge of soil over the crowns, covering them to a depth of 15 or 17 cm (6 or 7”) but do not press down the covering more than necessary. If you can then cover the ridges with cloches, so much the better. Both Witloof and Red Verona chicory may be treated in this way, but do not expect quite as good results with Red Verona, which tends to be rather straggly.
If you have grown dandelions as a salad crop, this can be forced now, too. Although the wild dandelion can be blanched and eaten, it tends to be too bitter for many tastes; some of the cultivated continental varieties are larger and more succulent. Again you have the alternatives of forcing outdoors or indoors, although a dark shed or cupboard is preferable to a greenhouse, which usually has too high a temperature for this purpose.
Wintershould now be ready for blanching. The winter varieties of this useful salad plant have broader and generally crisper leaves than the summer varieties and are, of course, much hardier, although they appreciate the protection of cloches when hard weather comes. Blanching can be by inverting flower pots over each plant, tying in the leaves to exclude the light from the heart, or anything else that keeps out the light. Remember one cardinal point: always begin blanching when the foliage is completely dry, and keep it dry. Otherwise rot will set in, making the plant useless.
Broad beans are still included in the check-list for sowing. Ideally they should have been in the ground a month ago, but allowance has to be made for the weather. The later they are sown, the less chance of their surviving the winter. I generally take a gamble now, but the odds are too great after the middle of December.
IN THE FRUIT GARDEN
The early December conditions of high humidity, poor light and lack of drying winds are favourable to the spread of diseases in plants.
Fungus spores from old raspberry canes can be washed down in rainwater or drops of moisture to infect new growths with cane spot or cane blight disease. Any autumn-fruiting raspberries that are still unpruned, should therefore be cut down to ground level without delay. Other cane fruits should be thinned out if this has not already been done, so that plenty of air can circulate among the remaining canes. While doing this, look after the ties, in case they have been worked loose by winter gales.
The pruning of red and white currants, which was started in summer, can be completed now, in order to produce some good fruiting spurs, particularly on espaliers and cordons. This means cutting back the remains of the new sideshoots to leave one dormant bud. Bushes need not be cut back quite so hard if they are growing and fruiting well.
Weather permitting, another job to be completed during the next few weeks is the winter spraying of top fruits. The shoots, branches and trunk of apples, pears, cherries, apricots, plums, gages and peaches should be drenched with a 5% tar-oil winter wash, to deal with the overwintering eggs of aphids and suckers and to control scale insects. It will also burn up and clean off moss and lichens, but remember that it is not essential to do this every year, and that it will also kill useful predatory insects.
Fruits in store should be regularly inspected, and removed as required, either for use or to throw out as necessary. Brown rot has a nasty habit of spreading quickly without being noticed, infecting adjacent healthy fruits, so it pays to be scrupulous in your examination.
When winter weather is uninviting, there are several indoor chores to attend to. Pruning tools, such as secateurs, knives and long arm pruners, can be greased, oiled, sharpened and repaired. Saws will require sharpening and resetting to stop them nipping or being slow to cut in use. Tools like spades, forks, hoes and similar should, if not already attended to, be cleaned and rubbed down with an oily rag. Spades and hoes will probably also need sharpening, and the tines of forks and rakes may need straightening. Sprayers and pumps can be checked over, washers and worn parts renewed as required.
Trees and bushes delivered in frosty weather are best kept under cover and in a shaded, frost-proof place, if possible still in their packing material, provided the packing material keeps the roots from drying out. Otherwise unpack them, spray the roots with water, and cover them with moist peat, then repack, until conditions are suitable for planting. When the plants are finally unpacked, soak the roots in water for at least two hours before heeling in or planting.
IN THE GREENHOUSE
Rain usually makes watering outdoors unnecessary at this season, and you are sometimes tempted to forget that any crops under glass are still dependent on you for water. Do not forget, in particular, the forced, or chicory under the greenhouse staging. And grown in greenhouses are a crop which can be ruined for lack of water.
Keep a supply ofand going; at this season allow about two weeks from sowing to cutting. Sow a little every week. Lettuce of suitable varieties, radishes, carrots and should also be producing good crops now, and it is feasible to continue sowing similar crops to replace them. But remember that early spring will be about the earliest date for harvesting anything sown now (other than radishes and mustard cress) unless you can supply sufficient heat and light, especially light on dull winter days. And with today’s high fuel prices, it can be a very expensive proposition to maintain a consistently warm temperature now.