Winter work

The blog has been quiet for the past year, largely because we did little in the garden. The only crops we planted were chillies and tomatoes in the glasshouses and polytunnel and a bed of potatoes outdoors. We tended the fruit trees and the soft fruit, but otherwise took a year out. Now we have been working to tidy things up ready for the new season.

Last year, we weeded out the vegetable beds, spread a thick layer of manure on top, and covered with a weed suppressing membrane. There is no need to work the manure in as the worms will take care of that task. The membrane keeps the area more or less free of weed. When the beds are uncovered they will be in perfect condition for this year’s crop. We normally try and do this as we clear the ground of crops; although covered for much longer this time, it has kept the beds in good condition without much effort.

Bare soil is, generally, not a good thing. The rain washes nutrients from the soil and weeds have free reign. When not used for growing vegetables, one can sow a green manure. This is a crop that serves to cover the ground and help build fertility. Some weeks before planting, the growth is dug in, where it contributes much needed organic matter. This approach does, though, require some labour to dig in, which is why we prefer to spread organic matter – manure and/or compost – and then cover.

The vegetable beds - fed, covered, and in good order for the new season.
The vegetable beds – fed, covered, and in good order for the new season.

The beds in the glasshouses and polytunnel were not covered, so, with mother-in-law’s help, we have been clearing them of weeds and then covering with a thick layer of manure. By the time we need to plant the tender crops, such as tomatoes, aubergines, cucumbers, and melons, the worms will have dealt with much of this and the soil should be in good condition. Broken plant supports have been replaced and the peach trees tied in.

Winter pruning of the cordon fruit trees has been completed and some of the supports replaced. The canes were several years old and a couple broke under the weight of the crop. This sort of work is much easier to do in winter when the leaves have been shed and one can see exactly what is going on. All of the ties were checked, and any tight ties removed and replaced. I use a stretchy plastic for much of the tree work; it is fiddly to tie, but it is stretchy, so causes less damage as the stems swell. More fruit trees are on order to be planted along the boundary fence, but otherwise the main garden area is now in good condition.

The only area that still needs a lot of attention is the fruit cage. There is still pruning to be done, including all of the currant bushes and the old raspberry canes. There is a lot of weeding to do – the fruit cage has always had the worst weed problem. I am hopeful that repeated weeding will gradually reduce the task somewhat, but I have been saying that for a few years now.

One of the berry beds done, five more to go
One of the berry beds done, five more to go

The gooseberries have been pruned. These are being trained as double cordons, tied into vertical bamboo canes. Gooseberries, along with red and white currants, will crop happily as cordons, and allow one to grow more varieties than would otherwise fit in the space available. The gooseberries, though, are a bit reluctant to develop just the two vertical stems and keep throwing up new stems from the base of the plant. I should have pinched them off when young, which I shall endeavour to do this year; the main stems develop more slowly when energy is going into new shoots that are not desired.

The worst problem will come when I get to the hybrid berries, which are trained along horizontal wires. These went a bit mad last year and half of the new growth has gone through the roof of the cage. This will need to be cut off as there is little chance of pulling it back through the netting that covers the roof without causing damage. The training of various fruits has admittedly been a bit sloppy, as the plants went in before the supports were in place, so we have been going round screwing vine eyes into the wooden posts that support the roof and running plastic coated wires around the cage to which we can tie the plants. I would like to think this will be the last time the fruit cage is in such a mess, but I am pretty sure it will need a lot of work next winter too. At least the supports will be in place.

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