Dig it – Winter

With Fulke Andel - gardening advice for the new (and not so new) gardener

Well, here we are rapidly heading into winter. The weather this past year, hasn’t been brilliant. I may be wrong, but it appears that our summers start earlier and then degenerate into a period of overcast and wet weather interspersed with the odd fine day. I know we’re used to rain in Wales, but honestly, we’ve had more than our fair share this year.

It might be frightful outside but bad weather gives you the opportunity to plan what you’re going to grow next year. December and January are the traditional months for placing your seed orders.

Sit down with the seed catalogues, a glass of mulled wine or sloe gin and start planning what you will grow. You may well have favourite varieties, but it’s an opportunity to try new ones, compare the performance and perhaps discover new favourites. You can of course browse on line, and websites can be really informative, but I do enjoy a traditional catalogue.

It’s a good time for repairing and renovating. There’s always something to do if you look hard enough! Don’t forget you may not have time when the season is in full swing, so make use of those rare sunny but cold days. Perhaps turn the compost heap over and ensure compost bins are covered to prevent excess rain leaching the nutrients and to keep some of the heat of de-composition in. Just digging over a few yards of the vegetable garden will help in the spring.

Rake the leaves out of your pond and place a floating ball in it to provide an air hole if the surface freezes. If your pond does freeze over, don’t crack the ice with a hammer – as the shock waves are harmful for the fish. Place a saucepan containing boiling water on the surface to melt a hole

I suspect there may be an air of panic in some house-holds regarding presents to buy for the keen gardener. If your hints have gone unheeded, then just tell them what you’d like. It’s far better to get something you want, than to try and look pleased when you get another ‘Vintage’ storage tin for bird-seed! This year, I thought I’d see how long it would take for my hints to be acknowledged. Just to prove the point. I have left a Gabriel Ash Coldframe Catalogue in strategic places, arrows pointing at the object of my desire. I’ve left the website up on my computer, scribbled dimensions down on a plan of the garden along with ‘it will fit in here’! All to no avail. I had to tell Mrs Andel what I was hoping for, and I’m now not convinced that Santa will leave it on Christmas morning!

Sow / Plant

  • Broad beans

Plant out

  • Garlic


Your leeks should be coming ready now. Harvest every other one in a row leaving the rest to grow on. Brussel 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 the following, as long as Jack Frost has stayed away: celery and celeriac and kohl rabi as well as turnips, swedes and spinach.


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 and ties are firm. Winter winds can shake the roots loose on young trees causing poor growth or even death. As with November, December is a good month to attend to pruning 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 (if you’re allowed to) – to dispose of excess debris unfit for composting BUT check there aren’t any hedgehogs hibernating in it before you light it.

Seasonal Recipe

Tempted as I was to include a recipe for sprouts, here’s a recipe for that other compulsory winter vegetable – the humble swede. This recipe serves 4 as an accompaniment. You will need a large swede, small onion, clove of garlic, butter, sugar and vegetable or chicken stock. Prepare the swede by peeling and cutting into large evenly sized chunks, roughly chop the onion – add both to a large saucepan, along with the crushed garlic, a small pinch of sugar and a large knob of butter. Pour in sufficient stock to just cover the swede. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes or so, once the swede is soft, remove the lid and boil vigorously to drive off virtually all the liquid – then mash. Serve with your Sunday Roast – superb

Readers Tips

To keep your poinsettia for next year, take it out of its ornamental pot, re-pot it into a slightly larger pot. Keep it moist in a stable room temperature and feed periodically during the spring/summer. During late summer/early autumn, place it in a room which you don’t use that often. It needs increased periods of darkness to set flower. Electrical lighting will interfere with this. Follow these instructions and you may just get it to flower again by Christmas. BE Southgate



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