My December ho-ho-hot list…

Chillies: Christmas Bells Aside from the obvious December to-do list (Christmas etc), there is a surprising amount to do in the garden too.

Here’s 10 things I’m up to this month, weather, and time, permitting:

  1. I’ve been planting… wild asparagus, garlic and red onions, from sets, all three bought from Franchi Seeds of Italy. I’m quite excited about the wild asparagus, ‘a highly esteemed gastronomic variety‘ it says on the packet. I know it will be a 2 year wait before I’ll get a crop but apparently this wild variety establishes itself quicker than the larger cultivated ones. Still, I really hope I’ve put them in the right place, as once planted they don’t take well to being transplanted. Fussy things, these asparagus. So ‘hats off’ to the UK farmers, who grow the best asparagus in the world. It’s official!

I’ve also planted 20 broad bean seeds with the idea that they will be that little bit ahead of spring planted ones. Hopefully, that ‘little bit’ will mean they won’t get infested with sap-sucking aphids. But with this very mild weather, they are already ‘going for it’ after only 2 weeks underground. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing?

2. I’m keeping an eye on the stored veg in the shed, specifically for any signs of rot which can spread. I’ve hung the red cabbages upside-down from the roof, I have apples wrapped in packing paper in shoe boxes, and the well-hard ‘Mr Bond’ and ‘Mr Scarface’ – my petite pumpkins – are toughing it out together on a trough-turned-shelf. I still have a few onions to eat up too. All are looking good so far. I just mustn’t forget I have a shed-load of veg when the fridge looks bare!

3. I’m keeping my other eye on the growing veg in the beds. I have frisée endive and Cavolo Nero, which are snuggled up next to the leeks. The endive look like they are big enough to start blanching, one at a time, by starving the leaves of light. Reducing their greenness makes them less bitter. You can either pop a plate on the top or bind the plant with twine. The idea is to starve the inner leaves of light. After a week or so the leaves should have paled and it’s ready to harvest. Now, not everyone likes endive. You know, it’s the ‘prickly one’ that you get in mixed salad bags. I must admit, my experience has been as mixed as a mixed salad bag, but then I’ve not grown my own before… How exciting to find out!

lorry madnessWill I get home before dark today? No. I will not.

4. And I mustn’t forget to HARVEST all this winter veg! This may sound ridiculous to people who are at home all day, but if you work 9-5 and commute then it’s dark when you leave and it’s dark when you get home. It’s cold, it’s raining and you’ve got your smart shoes on. Then there’s the netting to wrestle with. It’s no fun harvesting in these conditions with a sharp knife and a torch between your knees. What I need to start doing is harvest enough for the week on Sunday afternoon, wash and trim it, and keep it in the fridge or larder, ready to quickly (and enjoyably) prepare when I get home.

5. Utilise the nutritious herbs. Again, it’s been so mild that nearly all the herbs are having a ball and are desperate to be picked and used. Even the sunny-climate oregano looks as happy as Larry. These have been planted close to the back door and easy to pick just before I need them. Bloody fantastic.

wonky tap in Orkney6. Turn off the water supply to your outdoor tap, or get it insulated. It’s been so mild that I’ve been using the tap, off and on, and have done  ‘the final shut off’ twice already.

7. Check vegetables nets and frames are secured and pegged down to withstand high winds. I’ve got my micro-net ready in an easy-to-find place in the shed, to drape over the beds when it gets frosty.  I’ve packed straw around the base of the artichokes and covered the newly planted broad beans and onions with twiggy off-cuts, to protect them from pigeons and capricious cats. I also kept my row of now-redundant rocket in place and have trimmed it into a mini hedge to form a windbreak for the lettuces. Seems to work!

8. Warm up the wrigglers. If you’ve got a worm composter, don’t forget to put it somewhere sheltered from the cold and wind. If you cover it to keep out the rain, make sure it is still ventilated. I’m going to put mine in the garage for the winter. Above all, check it regularly to make sure it doesn’t get water-logged. The worms won’t be as active in the cold weather, so reduce the amount of peelings etc you add to suit their winter appetites.

11/7/159. Keep on top of weeding. They may look innocent now, but weeds grow all year round, and are burly competitors for all that lovely soil you’ve cultivated for your precious crops. I find with the raised beds that it’s pretty easy to keep on top of the weeding. If there’s only one job you can fit in every weekend, make it this one.

Holly berries in the hedge10. Finally, don’t forget to enjoy the garden! I have a very friendly robin, who comes for a philosophical tete-a-tete, and a big thrush who likes visiting the apple tree to eat the mistletoe berries. This weekend I’m going to pick some holly myself , gather some twigs, rosemary and sage, rustle up some wire and ribbon, get the Christmas box out of the attic, check the fairy lights… And make some decorations for the house.

Then light a fire, bake some mince pies and raise a glass to our efforts!

Cheers!

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