Dig it – Winter

With Fulke Andel

Gardening advice for the new (and not so new) gardener

October provided us with a nice dry spell at the start which allowed me to get ahead of myself with the autumnal chores. Borders have been tidied and I’ve made a start on digging the veg garden.

However, many gardeners see these cold months as a time to hang up their wellies and hibernate until the spring.

Yes there’s far less to do in the garden, but there’s also far less daylight or good weather, in which to do it! I see the next few months as a good time to plan ahead and decide on what I’d like to do differently with the garden or what new plants I want to experiment with. I use the brief periods of good weather we get to tidy up the garden in general, but especially the flower borders. They’re also used to roughly dig over the vegetable garden. It’s a good time to extend your vegetable plot or start a new one from scratch. The best approach to digging, in my opinion, is to just do a small amount when the weather allows. That way, you don’t end up overdoing it – and your back will thank you!

November is really the last month that you can plant or sow. Traditionally, it’s the last opportunity you’ll have to sow Broad Beans and plant out Garlic bulbs. Personally I’ve had very little success with autumn sown Broad Beans – loosing at least 50% to frost. I find it better to sow in February under a cloche, the beans will be ready only a week or so behind the winter sown beans – but the crop is far heavier as you have more plants. Garlic, however, seems to survive winter sowing very well, they will be slow to show signs of growth but seem to survive (if not flourish) when they’re hit with severe frosts.

Soggy, brown, collapsed plants are an eyesore and deserve nothing better than to be cut back and given a decent burial on the compost heap. Cut down herbaceous stems and clear the tatty remains of annuals, but do leave a little cover of the perennials that fade relatively elegantly (sedum, astilbes and grasses for example).They will provide winter interest as well as some much needed wildlife shelter – ladybirds especially appreciate winter quarters and will repay your hospitality by disposing of aphids in industrial quantities next year. Leaving sodden debris and fallen leaves around plants will only encourage pests and disease.

If you own a greenhouse, now’s a good time to wash pots and trays, clean, mend and oil your tools and throw away anything that is beyond hope or reasonable repair! Cleaning your greenhouse thoroughly will prevent pests from hibernating and leaping into action next spring.

Wash the windows inside and out to allow maximum light in over the winter and scrub benches, fixtures and glazing bars with disinfectant, making sure you hose the whole place down really well, especially dark and dusty corners.

For really effective pest elimination in your greenhouse, fumigation is the ticket. Move all plants outside, shut the windows, and light a sulphur candle in the middle of the floor, (retreat at speed!), shut the door and wait until the smoke and fumes have completely dispersed several hours later. Your greenhouse should now be delightfully pest free!

With Christmas just around the corner, now is the perfect time to prepare for Christmas day itself. I’m not suggesting planting any specific vegetables for consumption on the day, more importantly I’m suggesting it’s time to start hinting about what you, as a gardener, really want for Christmas! Garden Centres are full of all things Christmas, but I sometimes wonder how many gifts bought for Gardeners are really well thought through. So rather than leave it to chance, and if you suspect your hints are being ignored – tell your nearest and dearest what you’d like! If you’d like some guidance, here are some Christmas gift ideas…..

From my own experience, good gloves are a must – if you buy cheap gloves, they don’t last and you invariably end up spending hours picking those damn thorns out of your fingers, as they offer very little protection. The best I’ve found are a make called ‘Gold Leaf’. They have a wide range, designed for all seasons (waterproof, thermal etc.). Their ‘Tough Touch’ are brilliant when pruning roses, as they offer protection to your wrists and forearms as well as your hands. You can expect to pay around £20 to £30 per pair. Quality tools are also essential, but you can end up spending a fortune very easily. If you’re buying for someone new to gardening, I would suggest a good quality stainless steel spade and fork. Burgon and Ball are expensive, but will last a lifetime. They’ll set you back around £40 each, but are well worth the outlay. As these are the best, Bay has a competition for you to WIN some for yourself (see page 48). Spear and Jackson and Wilkinson Sword are also good and will cost you slightly less. For everything else, consider buying Wolf Garten multi-change. With these you buy a handle (around £10) and which-ever fittings you need – rake, hoe, trowel, fork, brush etc. They have fittings for virtually every gardening task under the sun, including picking apples! The fittings cost from around £7 upwards. The quality is good and they save both money and storage space. The only downside is that if you need to use them in anger on very hard ground, they can break. I guess the rule of thumb is if you’re planning to do heavy work, buy repu-table stainless steel tools. If you’re only planning on maintaining a garden, then buy Wolf Garten. The final must have gardening tool is a good pair of by-pass secateurs. I’ve used a make called Felco for over 40 years. There are many other makes on the market, but buy the best you can afford and don’t forget to buy a sharpening stone to go with it. The Felco No.2 (general all-rounder) will cost you around £40. The great thing about this make is that they sell spare parts and they’ll service your secateurs for you if needed.

Things to do in the garden

Sow / Plant Broad beans   Plant out Garlic

Harvest Your leeks should be coming ready now. Harvest every other one in a row leaving the rest to grow on (see readers tip below). Brussels sprouts should be starting as well. Pick from the bottom of the plant upwards. Just remember the sprout is for the whole of the winter, not just for Christmas!

Along with sprouts you can harvest kale and take up the winter cabbages and cauliflowers. A cauliflower tightly wrapped in cling-film kept in the fridge can be kept fresh for as long as six weeks.

Main crop carrots can be lifted to store safe from pests in damp sand or peat in your store along with parsnips but parsnips do hold in the ground better than carrots.

You could still be harvesting celery and celeriac and kohl rabi as well as turnips, swedes and spinach.

Fruit It’s pruning time for apples and pears and they’ll benefit from some compost around the base as a mulch. With younger, staked trees check the stakes are firm and the ties. Winter winds can shake the roots loose on young trees causing poor growth or even death.

As with October, November is a good month to attend to pruning the raspberries, blackberries and hybrid berries as well as being the ideal time to plant bare rooted canes. Don’t forget to add plenty of compost to the soil and 250gr (8oz) per square yard of bonemeal.


  • Prune roses lightly to prevent wind-rock, full pruning to be done in the spring
  • Clear up fallen leaves – especially from lawns, ponds and beds
  • Raise containers onto pot feet or onto upturned saucers, to prevent water-logging,
  • Plant tulip bulbs for a spring display next year
  • Plant out winter bedding
  • Cover brassicas with netting if pigeons are a problem
  • Insulate outdoor containers from frost – bubblewrap works well
  • Stop winter moth damage to fruit trees using grease bands around the trunks
  • Put out bird food to encourage winter birds into the garden
  • Have a bonfire – to dispose of excess debris unfit for composting BUT check there aren’t any hedgehogs hibernating in it before you light it.

Seasonal Recipe The fruit stalls in the markets are now groaning under the weight of UK grown apples and pears. So this month I thought I’d share a VERY easy recipe for poached pears. You’ll need 1 pear per person, and a bottle or two of mulled wine – available at this time of year from most supermarkets. Peel the pears and trim the base so that it will sit upright when put on a plate. Place in a saucepan and pour in the wine until the pears just start to float. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer gently (moving the pears occasionally so that they colour evenly) until the pears are soft. This usually takes around 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the pears and keep warm. Bring the wine back to the boil and reduce by two thirds, until you get a nice syrupy consistency. Plate up the pears and pour over the syrup. So simple yet so delicious

Readers Tips If you intend using your leeks straight after harvesting, cut them horizontally just above the roots, leaving around 5mm of the stem in place. Within a few weeks, new growth will appear, and you’ll have baby leeks to harvest in no time. JB Southgate




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