As Winter Comes

by frankbeswick

For true allotment gardeners gardening does not cease in winter,

The garden never stands still, it must always be in a process of change and development. Indeed with climate change the idea that anyone''s garden will remain unchanged is not sustainable. Winter is a time when some important work can be done. Certainly, planning is an important part of garden work. What do you want to do next year, what changes do you wish to make? There is necessary maintenance to be performed and waste to be disposed of. While not as busy as summer, Winter is truly a time for garden lovers to work hard to prepare for the coming year.

Planning for Next Year

A period of thinking and planning can be imposed on us, and it is no bad thing. It happened this weekend when I made the mistake of going to do some garden work after a double immunization for flu and pneumonia, routinely given to people over sixty five.But I am allergic to nothing, so there was nothing to worry about, or so I thought.  After a couple of hours of enjoyable work I began to feel ill, my right arm was in serious pain and was losing flexibility. I returned home and  spent the next fourteen hours in bed, some of the time shivering with fever. Doctor's verdict: bad reaction to the injections, which will go away, but in the meantime I need to rest for a few days, and anyway,  after three days I have still not fully recovered use of my right arm,  but  I cannot stop reflecting, and so I decided to use the time to put some thought into the coming year. So here is what I am thinking. 

A complete redesign of the front half of the plot is in order. A new and wider   range of crops is needed. I am taking up one of  the paths and creating a larger bed out of two rectangular ones. This bed will be subdivided not  with paths, but with movable boards, and I hope that a walk in wonderwall, a very stable netting cloche will be purchased. This is not a permanent structure so I do not need  permission, but I will need Andrew my eldest son to help me erect it, a process that should take about three hours. Hopefully it  will not be a windy day, but this is North West  England,so don't count on windless days. Andrew is also going to help me erect  another temporary greenhouse near the picnic table.

A rethink of crops is due. I have had a massive oversupply of apples, but England's apple harvest has been excellent this year, and I have surplus to give away, so no fruit plantings are needed. I have also  done well with potatoes, maybe a few too many, though I have several people to give them to.  I will need more onions, especially as this  year has not been onion friendly, because of a cool spring and low light levels. More carrots are on the list. But Constancia, Andrew's Angolan-Portugese wife is hoping to plant some Portugese vegetables, maybe ocra and sweet potatoes. I must admit that I have been wary of planting sweet potatoes in my area, as I have thought that we were too far north for them, but with protected cultivation I will give the planting a try. Maybe some aubergines in the new greenhouse will be another option.  

Constancia  has already told me that she wants to develop the flower bed, it could do with a woman's touch, as my aesthetic skills are not the best, and I am thinking of a couple of ornamental archways on the paths, lined with climbing roses.  

The Greenhouse

Getting the greenhouse clear is a an important winter job. Recently Constancia spotted some mice in there, I don't mind the field mice having a little nibble of the low hanging tomatoes, but there can be other pests. Slugs can hide and even lay their eggs. It is not widely known that the large slugs are not the gardeners' enemies, for they only eat compost. It is the little chaps that cause the plant damage. So what is needed is a clear out of as much as possible. The first frosts are due soon and when that happens the tomatoes die overnight. They are currently finished fruiting and so they can be pulled up when in the next few days. But when I do this it is insufficient to leave the used compost in the pots. The compost is partly spent and could be hiding overwintering pests, so the pots will be taken out and emptied. Then they will be checked for  pests and scrubbed out. Only one pot will remain, the grape vine, but that needs different treatment.

The next cleaning stage will be the ground. Any weeds that have broken through will be dealt with. Nooks and crannies are to be scoured for  pests.Spiders will be welcome, as they eat troublesome insects.  But the windows will need to be washed with detergent, both inside and outside. 

The grape needs attention. I have fed it well with liquid seaweed and it has flourished into a long trailing vine that needs controlling. I will not need to water it for long, as it goes dormant in winter, but it will need staking. You have seen grapes trailing over Mediterranean roofs, well that's what I want to happen. But my greenhouse does not contain much potential for fixing things to the roof, so what I am planning is a bamboo frame along which the grape can trail. I am going to do a bit of research on pruning grapes over winter. 


I am going to have some soil preparation done over winter. This will entail adding quite a  bit of compost. I have two compost heaps, one of which may well be ready to excavate and I will spread this on the plot. The other will wait over winter, as it is the younger of the two and is not ready yet. But one technique to be used in winter is a compost trench. This is when you dig a trench in a bed and slowly fill it with compost, which rots in the ground over winter. At first it sucks some nitrogen from the soil, but when the bacteria in the trench die the nitrogen is returned. 

But I am also adding manure. What I  like is  pelleted chicken manure, which I add to compost to make quite a powerful feed. Some beds will take much feeding. I have had good pumpkins,but they exhaust the ground and so much manure is appropriate.   

Sadly, this year I am going to have to limit my addition of leaves,as they have to be delivered in the car park space, but as we are having major repairs to the internal road over the next few weeks  deliveries will be disrupted. This will not  prevent me from obtaining some leaves, but there will not be as many as there were previously. But I might put down another helping of rockdust, ground Scottish  granite that so benefits the soil, and I never miss out on seaweed in its various forms. 

But clearing debris on the ground is important, as pests can overwinter in it, so shifting the sides of raised beds to see what is underneath is a useful task, and digging over beds to expose slugs eggs to predatory birds is important. I will have to dig around the plum tree to ensure that any sawfly larvae do not find a haven in the ground,for digging destroys their cells and exposes them to birds, which welcome the addition to their diet. But one raised bed must remain in place, for there is an ants' nest under one end, and I do not want to  destroy the ants' home, for they are not my enemies and do the allotment no harm.

I have some decaying wood to be burnt or tipped. This is wood that I have used for raised beds and is now decaying. The tip is not far away, and I have some space for a fire.  

Paths and Pruning

I have begun to renew my paths with woodchip, courtesy of the council which dumps its chipping on allotment sites for our use. I must admit that I am blessed with Trafford Council, which is  friendly to allotment sites. I have to maintain one of the paths besides my plot, the one on the left looking down to the back. That was half woodchipped  when the illness struck, but it will be completed soon. But I have a bit of a problem with the other, right hand path. My apple is overhanging and impeding the path. I  don't want to prune it too early, but I need to keep the  path clear. I think that a quick snip, a minimum prune protected by a wound healing treatment will be in order. That will need doing soon. 

But the fruit tree pruning is due in January. I am fortunate that Andrew is an expert fruit nursery technician trained in pruning and has promised to do this job for me. 

What the new gardening season brings I know not. We got best improved plot in Trafford this year, but the allotment committee has changed. I am still vice chair, but while I want an award next year I am unsure. However, as I have just become chair of Trafford Allotment Federation, the umbrella body for all allotments in Trafford, I hope that I can exert a positive influence across the Trafford  community. 

Updated: 01/24/2016, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 01/24/2016

I delayed work on the bed with the ants' nest, but there was no need. A quick inspection showed that it is now uninhabited and in the rainy weather the tunnels have collapsed. The ants die off in winter, leaving only eggs for next year, so they will dig a new nest. I will leave the space for them, just at the end of the bed.

frankbeswick on 01/21/2016

The time is ripe for more garden work after the darkness of December, but the weather is unstable, we have had some really cold conditions and some rain. I will not be going there this morning,as I have the joys of my tax form to attend to, along with some other duties. But I am wondering when to replace the glass broken in storms Desmond and Frank. I have some glass and polyurethane panels, but I think that at one or two places the frame needs reinforcing. I am told that a friend has a greenhouse for me later in the season. I am allowed two fixed structures and any number of temporary ones, but as I have said before, my plot, while free from flooding and the worst frosts, is a wind tunnel, with no significant protection from storms coming in from the Irish Sea thirty miles away. I think that I might be safer waiting till April.

frankbeswick on 01/20/2016

Least preferred, mending the greenhouse after these appalling winds we have had; favourite, planting anything.

DerdriuMarriner on 01/20/2016

frankbeswick, Garden and lawn activities spring through fall particularly appeal to me because of all the wildlife sightings there and in the meadows and vernal pool. But then winter has its appeal because of what can be learned from "the bones of the land" being in clear view.
You sound most industrious, an inspiration for me to clear a meadow path and prune some brambles (when the thorns are hidden by flowers, fruits, and leaves).
What is your most favorite and least preferred tasks?

blackspanielgallery on 10/25/2015

I agree with you about the planning being important, both for the results and for you. Anticipation is often the most pleasure, so anticipating our next garden will refresh you and bring happiness, and with little exhaustion. Winter is a great time for gardeners.

frankbeswick on 10/22/2015

Late flowering of vegetables is known, for I have known it with potatoes, but the problem is that the late flowering plants rarely survive. It is probably due to the reasonably warm October that we have just had. But November looms, and with it come frosts, which will destroy all members of the courgette family [pumpkins, marrows, squash, etc.] I am going to harvest my pumpkins soon, probably in the next few days, as I know that they will grow but little from now on.

Veronica on 10/22/2015

Interestingly enough, my courgettes ( zucchini ) plant has burst into life again and sudden has 6 fruits on it. I don't know if they will come to anything or not . Is this usual in Fall ? I have started feeding them just in case they develop further.

AngelaJohnson on 10/22/2015

I don't have a garden since I live in an apartment, but many of my friends and family have them and I enjoy watching their plants grow (or not).

frankbeswick on 10/20/2015

Flu in the left,no problem;pneumonia in the right, and it swelled and stiffened to the extent that I had limited mobility. It sill is not right from Saturday

Veronica on 10/20/2015

did you have it in your left or right arm ?

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