The winter months are often thought of as the most uninspiring time of year, with little growing in the ground, wet soil and muddy conditions, however I think that in some ways they can be the most exciting time of year. It is time to dig out the seed catalogues, read your notes on what grew well last year and what is probably not worth growing again. The ideal time to dream of sunnier weather and the first shoots of spring. I love putting together a whole year plan during January; a plan that includes exactly which varieties I am going to grow in the coming year and then a timeline for each one, from the first sowings (direct or otherwise), through planting out, harvesting and pruning. Included in the planning is any structures that need to be built, and the materials that need to be cut in order to make these. We are lucky that we have some fantastic areas of woodland around the site at River Cottage HQ, so there is plenty of opportunity to cut hazel poles and tops for beanpoles and pea sticks for the garden.
There is still plenty of outdoor work to do during the winter months so it is worth dashing out between the showers and doing some of the following tasks:
• Mulching – all of the beds will benefit from a good layer of compost being added to them during the winter months. This will replenish the nutrients in the soil and will also create a nice ground cover that should supress any weeds from germinating. Speaking of which…
• Weeding – weeds will slow down growth during the winter months but it still important to keep on top of them by regular weeding out of at least the larger ones in the beds. The less weed cover you can have through the winter means that you are then in a good position going in to spring as they can really creep up on you as the weather starts to warm up.
• Pruning – many types of fruit require a bit of pruning during the winter months when they are dormant. I find pruning is a really satisfying job that can transform an area of the garden and make it feel much more organised and tidy.
• Harvesting – there are some great winter staples in the garden at this time of year, just waiting for you to turn them in to delicious, warming winter dishes. Leeks, kale, cabbages, Jerusalem artichokes are just a few that can be found ready to harvest at this time of year, and if you are lucky like we are to have some indoor growing space, either in the form of a greenhouse or polytunnel, then your range of winter veg can expand even more – to salads, Florence fennel, herbs, spinach and the list goes on.
Happy planning everyone!