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December

As the cold moves in, we must get ready to protect our crops from imminent frosty nights. Daylight is decreasing fast and plant growth is smaller and weaker, which means that we can spend less time looking after plants and dedicate ourselves to planning and sorting out our space, tool shed and everything that has been neglected during the busy summer period. It’s also the perfect time to spend in the kitchen and cook yummy dishes with our winter veg – happy hibernation everyone.

 

Sow, plant, propagate

  • Unless the soil is frozen or waterlogged, get your garlic in as soon as possible or wait until temperatures have risen in February or March (see below for advice on how).
  • Propagate your rhubarb by lifting it, dividing it with a sharp spade and re-planting old crowns in well manured ground. Alternatively this is a good time to plant new sets.
  • All fruit trees and bushes are now in their dormancy, so it’s the perfect time to plant fruit trees such as apples, pears, medlars, cherries, plums and even nut trees like walnuts.
  • Plant summer and autumn fruiting raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and hybrid berries such as tysonberries, boysenberrries and loganberries.
  • Propagate gooseberries, red and white currants by taking hardwood cuttings – make a trench with your spade, push them in and firm them with your heel. You can do so where you want them to grow or in a temporary bed.
  • Propagate raspberries by digging up any surplus canes which normally grow abundantly near the original plants and replant them as and where you need them. Cut them down to about 30cm to encourage root growth – you won’t have as much fruit in the first year but you’ll enable your plants be become strong and healthy.

 

Harvest

  • Kale, Brussel sprouts, kale, leeks. Kale in particular is much tastier after the first frosts – pick the outer leaves and enjoy it throughout the winter.
  • Parsnips and celeriac can be picked as and when you need them and are happy left in the ground for as long as it takes. Mulch them with straw for extra protection.
  • Harvest swedes and turnips by the end of the month as they tend to become woody. To be on the safe side though and avoid having our root veg frozen into the ground, lift all your root crops before the end of the month and store them for the winter.
  • There is still time to harvest hardy salad crops such as winter purslane, endive and corn salad, although they might be on their way out as cold weather becomes the norm.
  • Lettuces, oriental leaves and rocket might still be growing if in a protected environment like a polytunnel or even a cloche and a windowsill.
  • Dig up all of your Jerusalem artichokes and if you don’t want to grow them again next year, make sure you search thoroughly for any tubers left in the ground.

 

Fruit jobs

  • Prune gooseberries, white and red currants as well as all berries and grapevines, the latter ideally by the end of this month. Have a look at the RHS website for more detailed information on pruning and propagating.
  • Continue winter-pruning apples and pears, making sure you take out any dead, diseased and damaged wood. Don’t forget to remove suckers that have grown up from the roots during the summer.

 

Jobs to do

  • Keep on clearing beds of unwanted weeds. If you’ve recently taken on a plot, get rid of perennial weeds and cover new ground with cardboard, thick landscape fabric or even old carpets. Leave until the spring when it will be time for sowing and planting.
  • Spread well rotted compost or manure if you’re working on a no-dig system, or dig them in if you’re growing with traditional methods. Do so in particular where you’re planning to sow your legumes as they’ll need a very fertile soil.
  • Cover spinach, winter salad leaves such as endive, land cress, winter purslane and wild rocket with some cover, such as fleece or cloches.
  • If you’ve waited to cover your kales, Brussels sprouts and Savoy cabbages don’t delay this any further – it is much easier to pick them without a net but as available food decreases birds and particularly pigeons will be on the lookout.
  • Collect leaves – add small quantities to your compost heap or where more are available start a leafmould pile or fill sacks – next year this will be perfect to provide structure to your root bed and any other area where the structure of the soil needs attention or is not very well drained.
  • Use this time to clear and clean your shed, tools, pots, trays, labels and everything else you haven’t had time to look after during the busy summer months. Make sure you wash trays and pots thoroughly to get rid of any pest and disease. Don’t forget to sharpen your tools.
  • Draw up new plans for next year’s planting and order your seeds - take this time to reflect on what has gone well and what hasn’t whilst it’s still fresh in your mind.
  • Fix fencing and raised beds.
  • Make a bird feeder to help our garden friends.

 

Top Tips

Building a Compost Trench: Trench composting is a way of composting by burying food scraps that you would normally put into the compost bin directly into the soil. This is a great way to fertilize your soil and to feed your plants at the exact place they need it – at the roots.

Trench composting is especially good for crops which need heavy feeding such as beans and pumpkins and courgettes. Here’s how:

  • Dig a trench about a spade deep (30cms) and about a spade’s width (30cms).
  • Fill the bottom with a 6inch layer of food scraps. You can also include nettle and comfrey leaves but do not include meat, or dairy products or cooked food. Then cover with 6 inches of soil.
  • Continue filling the trench with alternating layers of kitchen waste and garden soil. When full, cover with soil and let it settle for one to two months before sowing or planting.

How to Grow Garlic: Buy garlic from a garden centre or online as it’s specially bred for the British climate and less likely to carry diseases. Garlic grows best in fertile soil, so add some compost or manure before planting if necessary. Break open the bulb and select the fattest cloves to plant as these will produce stronger, bigger plants. Plant the cloves with the flat, rough end down in the soil and the tip of the bulb just showing above the soil. Birds can pull up garlic cloves so plant the cloves with the tip just below the surface (up to an inch) if birds are a problem. Plant the cloves about 6 -8 inches apart. Garlic is ready to harvest when the leaves go dry and yellow, usually about late July and August.