December & January – Gardening advice for the new (and not so new) gardener

Dig it with Fulke Andel

I’m not one to wish my life away, but I have to say that I’ll be glad to see the back of this year.

I suspect that I’m not alone in this, but it has been a truly difficult year for everyone. Thank goodness for our gardens and the ability to escape from the confines of our homes and potter about in the open air. I just hope that 2021 is a better year for everyone. I’ve no doubt it will be some time before we experience ‘normality’ again. However, the sooner it arrives, the better.

The weather may not be good 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 the 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 pre-vent excess rain leaching the nutrients and to keep some of the heat of decomposition 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.

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 reason-able repair! Cleaning your greenhouse thoroughly will pre-vent pests from hiber-nating and leaping into action next spring. Wash the windows inside (see pic right) 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 green-house, fumigation is the ticket. Move all plants out-side, 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!

I suspect there may be an air of panic in some households regarding presents to buy for the keen gardener. With Christmas just around the corner, now is the perfect time to prepare for Christmas day itself. I’m not suggesting planting any specific veget-ables for consumption on the day, more importantly I’m suggesting it is time to start hinting about what you, as a gardener, really want for Christmas! Garden Centres are full of all things Christmas, but I some-times wonder how many gifts bought for gardeners are really well thought through. So rather than leave it to chance, 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 don’t really have any specific item in mind, so vouchers will be suggested!

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. Spear and Jackson and Wilkinson Sword are also excellent and will cost you slightly less. For everything else, consider buying Wolf Garten multi-change. With these you buy a handle (around £10) and whichever 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 reputable stainless-steel tools. If you’re only planning on main-taining 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.

Jobs for December and January

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. 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 cauli-flowers. 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.

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 November, December 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.

General

  •    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.

Readers Tips

A bright cold winter day is a good time to clear out your shed. There are far fewer creepy crawlies around. AB Kittle

Seasonal Recipe

I’ve left recipes for the humble sprout alone for a number of years now, so thought it time to resurrect one!

To serve 2 people as an accompaniment, you will need around a dozen sprouts, cut in half lengthways, 25g of salted butter, 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 3 cloves of garlic, freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Melt the butter and olive oil in a frying pan until it foams. Smash the garlic cloves with a flat knife and add to the butter – cook until browned (be careful not to burn) then remove and discard. Add the sprouts to the garlic infused butter, cut side down. Cover and cook for 10 to 15 mins over a medium heat (without stirring) until tender. Drain, season to taste and top with freshly grated parmesan.

 

 

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