Gardening Diary DECEMBER: week 2
IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN
You may have been lucky enough so far to escape frost and snow, but you cannot expect to do so much longer. Now is the time to take stock of any crops remaining in the garden, and to see whether any need to be lifted and removed to store, or if they require further protection in the ground. Of the root crops,, Hamburg , Jerusalem artichokes, salsify, scorzonera and swedes are perfectly hardy and may be left in the ground, although a covering of straw, or may be useful in an exceptionally hard winter. Certain varieties of turnip can withstand frost, while others will not, so check on which you are growing. As a rule, the green-topped varieties are hardier than the purple-topped kinds. Celery is best left in the ground until needed, but you are now approaching the end of the crop, and in most winters there is not much point in trying to reserve any for use after Christmas. Any in the garden should be lifted and stored.
Of the brassica crops, winter(notably January King), Savoy, most varieties of , winter or that are now cropping, as well as those which will produce curds in spring, and, of course, Brussels sprouts, should all be looking well and prepared for any weather. So should . But draw soil up around all these crops, to give them as much support as possible. In exposed situations it may be worthwhile staking such tall plants as Brussels sprouts and kale. Cut down and burn any remaining dead stalks of Jerusalem artichokes.
Keep an eye on the autumn-sownand and on that will be producing the early spring crop. If you protect them with cloches throughout the winter, you will probably bring them on too early in spring, but a layer of straw will help them in hard weather. Also, be sure to press down frost-loosened soil around them. When the thaw comes, continue to lift for forcing as required, but dig up any winter remaining in the ground and transfer to a frost-proof shed for blanching.
IN THE FRUIT GARDEN
The completion of the winter pruning of apples and pears by the end of early winter is for most purposes the ideal, but pruning anytime between late autumn and the end of late winter, weather permitting, can be reasonably carried out. However, the pruning of stone fruits, such as plums and cherries, is slightly more complicated. Silver leaf disease and bacterial canker are much more likely to infect trees through wounds made by winter pruning than during the summer. On the whole, it is better to prune during summer, or immediately after picking, although it is possible to prune cherries in winter, provided they are not infected with bacterial canker, or the disease is not present on a neighbour’s trees. Cherries are much less vulnerable to silver leaf than plums.
Neglected apple and pear trees present something of a problem as do other forgotten fruit trees. Bush forms of apple and pear trees that have made a lot of growth, cropped passably, and are a mass ofbranches are worth retaining and renovating. If two or three main branches can be removed from the centre, to create a bowl-shaped framework of the remaining branches, this clearance will let in light and air. Pruning of the remaining growth should aim at removal of dead and diseased shoots, thinning of crowded and crossing growth, and cutting back some remaining shoots to encourage new shoot production. Old trees that are dying, have gnarled trunks and make little or no new growth, are best felled and grubbed out, with new trees planted in their place after thorough soil preparation.
Large healthy trees of good varieties can be shaped and fed as necessary. They should come into satisfactory bearing in two or three years, given good care. In overgrown orchards the drainage system, if any, is often faulty, causing water-logging and other troubles, such as apple canker and even the death of some trees. Winter wet will soon indicate whether or not land is well drained. Before embarking on any new drainage system, which usually involves considerable cost, it is wise to find out if there is an existing scheme, which may only require cleaning or rodding out.
At this time in early winter it is a good idea to look over strawberries in pots which you intend to bring in for forcing next month. They may be suffering from drought or frost-damage, both of which should be watched for in container-grown plants.
IN THE GREENHOUSE
Have you ever considered making an indoor herb garden for the winter? In a greenhouse, glass porch or even on a windowsill it takes up little room and it can be ornamental as well as useful. It can also be placed on a spare shelf in the conservatory.
An indoor winter herb garden can be established from seed or by lifting roots from the garden and transplanting them into pots or other containers. Herbs which grow satisfactorily from seed include chervil, dill, coriander, basil, sweet and pot marjoram, borage, parsley and thyme. But of course if the seed is sown at this time of the year, warmth must be supplied artificially. The plants should also have as much light as possible. Parsley, pot marjoram, basil,, mint, rosemary and lemon balm may also be transferred from outdoor beds. You will probably find some of these herbs more useful than others. Chervil and borage are excellent for winter salads, and I am seldom without supplies of parsley and chives. Lemon balm, sage and rosemary are perhaps more ornamental than useful; rosemary in particular is aromatic as well as attractive, filling a room with fragrance on a warm, sunny day.
Borage, dill, chervil, chives and basil are the most useful herbs for salads. Together with lettuce andfrom the greenhouse or outdoor cloches, and with and (which may be grown indoors with herbs), you can enjoy an excellent salad even in the depth of winter. In addition, I sometimes put a few nasturtium seeds in a pot either indoors or in the greenhouse as young nasturtium leaves make an attractive salad addition. American or land cress is also worth experimenting with. Sow seed in a moderately deep container and keep well watered and at a temperature not lower than about 10°C (50°F). It tastes very much like .
Most herbs like a sunny site indoors, but not at too high a temperature. One of the problems about growing plants anywhere in winter is the lack of light, so the question of artificial light arises. Use a fluorescent lighting strip rather than a bulb. You can use a low wattage, say 40 watts, but keep the light on long enough to give a fourteen-hour day. Incan-descent light bulbs have the disadvantage of emitting heat as well as light so keep them well away from the growing plants.
Centrally heated rooms tend to develop a dry atmosphere. To keep the plants well watered, stand their containers in shallow trays of water, rather than use a watering can. You can keep the foliage fresh by using a mist-spray from time to time.