The winter gardener reviews the successes and failures of the previous seasons’ crops, tidies the polytunnel, gets excited about seed catalogues and draws up plans for the crop rotation for the new growing year. Growing plans below from left to right – the outside beds, the polytunnel bed, the long outside bed. The brassicas (blue) like to follow where the legumes (green) were last year to take up the nitrogen left in the soil and the roots (orange) fit in the areas left. There are some odd vegetables like artichokes and sweetcorn which don’t belong to a category and just get put wherever there’s space.
I particularly enjoy choosing the seeds we’ll order with Sheila. When reading about the properties of different varieties you can believe the promises of ‘prize-winning quality, rust resistance, and sweet tasting roots’ and imagine a year of perfect vegetable success untroubled by aphids and slugs and powdery mildew. The planning phase feels so hopeful.
Above is the beginnings of our tomato jungle (and some pak choi seedlings) that occupies half the polytunnel each year. This season a cherry variety called Red Pear will be our main crop, with smaller numbers of Harbinger, Black Opal and a yellow variety called Sungold. I brought in the seed modules to the Byre and I think the underfloor heating provided them with lovely conditions for germination, forget electric propagators!
The carrots, broad beans and peas which were sown in the autumn have been on hold over winter in the tunnel and are now starting to grow in earnest again. We’ve been eating Russian and curly kale, lettuce and red cabbage throughout winter and the minimal Brussel sprout crop managed to provide enough for group dinner on Christmas day.
Above shows the outdoor beds in their winter covering, sparse vegetation and carpet to reduce the weeding come spring. The blackcurrants and redcurrants in the foreground have been pruned to a ‘goblet shape’ by removing low and centre branches to encourage fruit. This fruit border is full of alliums, daffodils, tulips and crocuses yet to flower and mark the start of spring . One of gardening aims is to grow more flowers this year, particularly varieties suitable for a semi-wild garden and cutting, as we all enjoy having flowers in our homes. There will be sweet peas, delphiniums, cosmos, larkspur, cornflowers, hollyhocks, sunflowers, foxgloves and poppies to name a few.
The orchard is growing happily, now with crocuses flowering around the base of the trees. Sheila has taken to regularly inspecting the buds just beginning to open on the fruit trees and has developed a theory about the fat buds being the fruit producing ones and the narrow buds producing only leaves – we’ll see if she’s right come summer!
I realise this is a vegetable heavy blog and many readers might not be into gardening. Whilst I did grow up in a family that grew their own veg I hadn’t done much myself before we bought the farm. I’ve discovered it’s not so complicated, you do what is says on the back of the packet and if it goes well you do the same the next year, if it doesn’t you try something different till you discover what works in your soil and the micro climate of your garden. So hopefully this will inspire a few of you to get some seeds, a pot and a bit of compost and grow something edible at home.