A couple of weeks ago my mother asked me if I was putting the garden to bed for the winter. It’s a common gardening phrase, and yet I have very little understanding of what it means. It implies the garden is going to be hibernating all winter, which isn’t true for a well-designed ornamental garden, and certainly isn’t true for a kitchen garden. Perhaps it means the gardener is going to be hibernating all winter, and the garden needs to be prepared for a long, untended stint? It can’t be about getting the kitchen garden ready for winter, I have been doing that all year.
I was thinking about my winter planting plan when I was putting my spring planting plan together. It’s true, this year, that I didn’t sow all of my winter crops seeds in spring – in spring only half the garden was finished. So this year I have taken an easier route, and I bought plants for purple sprouting broccoli, flower sprouts and leeks over the summer. They’ve been planted out and growing strongly for months, though. It’s true that I’ve only just managed to put the overwintering onions in, and the the garlic bed is still waiting to be planted (fingers crossed I can do that today; I broke a toe on Thursday and I’ve been hobbling about all weekend).
As James Wong has just said in the Guardian, there’s still time to sow three winter wondercrops – he’s talking about broad beans, grey shallots and winter lettuce. I sowed my broad beans earlier in the month, and they’re germinating now, in the shed. There are signs of life in the onion bed, which I planted at the same time. Last weekend I took some rosemary cuttings and re-staked the purple sprouting broccoli. Three of the plants have got very big and their puny canes weren’t doing any good at all.
We are forecast a proper cold snap this week, which is good news in some ways. The garden may end up looking like the picture at the top of this blog post (which was taken on 23 Nov 2015), and the oca and ulluco may finally get a touch of killing frost. Everyone else is already harvesting their tubers; mine are refusing to give up the ghost.
We don’t have a lawn anymore, so the lawn mower (which we really must find a new home for) has been languishing in the shed for months. We don’t (as yet) have any garden furniture that we need to store, or protect for the winter. The wind did shred the barbecue cover a little while ago, so we really should wheel that into one of the sheds; it’s unlikely (but not impossible) that we’ll use it again this year.
The Small Harvest Notebook: vol. 1 will be out in paperback this week, and in it I remind people that it’s time to remove saucers and trays from underneath plant pots that will be left outside all winter. Whilst they’re a lifesaver in the summer, helping to keep plants hydrated, in winter they can add to waterlogging woes. The only one I have left is underneath a tomato plant that really should go on the compost now.
I keep the soil covered with plants or a mulch all year round, so winter weather doesn’t bring me any soil structure concerns. We offer the birds food and water year round, although now it’s properly cold I can get the fat ball feeder out.
We’re still harvesting herbs, and we could start in on the leeks. Once I’ve planted the new crop of garlic, the rest of this year’s harvest will make it into the kitchen. I picked a handful of Chilean guavas last weekend, our first, and we loved those! I’m quite looking forward to the difference frost makes to the garden, the prospect of the oca and ulluco harvests, and watching ever more birds find their way to the feeders as wild food runs short (although it has been a good year for berries, so that might be a while). If we put the right food out this year, will the woodpeckers return to the garden?
So it feels like business as usual, not putting the garden to bed for the winter. There are always things for me to be doing outside, and things to enjoy. How about you, how are you getting your kitchen garden ready for winter?
Today’s winter wonderings were brought to you in association with Rattan Direct. I’m sure they know what it means to put the garden to bed for the winter, but I am genuinely confused!
This blog post was written by Emma Cooper and was published on The Unconventional Gardener website. If you're reading it elsewhere you may want to navigate away from plagiarised content.