This week has seen me return to a frosty GROW HQ, catching up with developments and changes after my three-week absence. Though this time of year changes tend to be slow and subtle (unless the pigeons have found an uncovered brassica crop). There is a need to reacquaint myself with the garden, let it get under my skin again. I suppose I’ve been committing horticultural adultery over my break with daylight hours spent catching up on my own somewhat neglected garden (evenings spent reading by the stove- whiskey in hand). Moving between gardens can require some mental adjustment, I should imagine this presents similar problems to the conventional type of adultery with every garden having different needs, moods and possibilities.
It’s important not to spend too much time ambling around reacquainting myself with the garden though as the winter is when the groundwork is done (literally in some cases) for your success over the year. Plans for the year need to be finalised, what is going where in the veg garden? When is it going in? What seeds etc. are needed? Not planning in a garden is making life very hard for yourself, a good plan saves a lot of work. I am sitting with our chef, JB, this afternoon and finding out what he wants me to grow next year. The first year’s production was a bit of a guestimate, with my somewhat over-enthusiastic production of peas and beans leading to bulging freezers and jaded looking chefs when I turned up with yet another bag of legumes. We will do the fine tuning to ensure supply and demand are appropriately matched.
The main priority at the moment is to ensure that soil is ready for plants as they go in. Preparatory work for our permanent fruit and hedgerow plantings was done before Christmas to ensure that when our bare-root plants arrive shortly they can grow straight into the ground. The land is weed free and ready to go. For the vegetable crops it is important to ensure the land is ready to create a suitable bed for whatever you are putting in – obviously the requirements of carrots are somewhat less onerous than potatoes. I am no believer in leaving soil bare over the winter to create a frost tilth (I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before!) and use rye as a green manure to cover any bare soil. This however needs careful management to ensure that they are incorporated into the soil at the right time. You want to give at least six weeks for the grass to rot down before sowing and planting. If you leave it too late then the decomposing grass can interfere with crop growth. This means that if our new potatoes are going in in mid-March then we need to start digging in the green manure shortly. On the other hand, the land which is going to be used for transplanted winter brassicas can be left to grow grass into the spring (though only until the rye starts to go stalky). As ever a little forward planning goes a long way in a garden.
If you want to learn more from Richard he is running a series of seasonal growing classes over the year that can be taken individually, or as a comprehensive year-round growing course. The first og these full day growing classes is called Planting up the Garden and takes place on February 10th.