When it comes to fruit and vegetables, winter can be an expensive time of the year, even for gardeners. It’s not that gardeners don’t have home-grown produce to harvest; the reason they head to the supermarket in mid-winter along with everyone else is that their gardens look so bedraggled, unkempt and unappealing they don’t want to go into them! I’m sure you know exactly what I mean: cabbages riddled with holes, kale with tatty, dying leaves, unthinned carrots and parsnips so small it takes a dozen to fill a pot, bitter, stringy celery with rusty leaves, leeks covered in mud, potatoes undug and green where they’re poking up through the soil … the ghastly list goes on and on.
The secret to enjoying your garden over winter is to spruce it up now, while it’s still warm and dry enough to work in. Get out amongst those brassicas and either shower them with Derris Dust or pick off the offending caterpillars by hand (it takes surprising little time and the results are super-satisfying when you see healthy new leaves beginning to grow back). Break tired, diseased leaves from kales and make it a rule to harvest neatly and methodically, working from the bottom of the stalk up towards the new growth. At the end of the winter, a well-harvested kale should look like a stick with a lolly-pop bunch of leaves at the top. Thin root vegetables now while there’s still time for remaining roots to develop and bulk up. Pull away fallen or damaged tops to allow air around the rows and provide fewer hiding spots for slugs. Cut the outer, stringy stalks from celery and if rust looks ready to destroy a bunch, harvest the whole plant and use it fresh or slice it and pop it in the freezer. Unless you live in a particularly dry part of the country, dig potatoes now and store them away – don’t leave them in the garden until the ground is waterlogged and the plants are overgrown with weeds.
A well-groomed garden, no matter how cold and miserable the season, is a sight for sore eyes so collect up dying vegetable leaves, pull out stakes and supports and store them away neatly. Gather up empty pots and seedling trays, plastic row markers, string and ties, and stow them neatly in the potting shed or garage. Shake out the plastic you plan to use for cloches and give it a wipe down to remove dust and debris. This doesn’t just make it look cleaner, it means a lot more light will be able to penetrate through the covering and onto the veges beneath.
After you’ve weeded and added manure, seaweed and compost to your beds, cover them in an attractive layer of mulch. Nothing looks more ship-shape and appealing than a winter edible bed well mulched with golden straw or red-brown pine needles. A frosted kale standing tall above it in the early morning sun is a tonic that lures you into the garden to harvest the goodies.
As a finishing touch to your garden makeover, make sure you attend to paths. Get the waterblaster out and clean off mud and algae from concrete paths. Weed sawdust paths, and give lawn paths a final trim before winter. Paths are your all-important access to the garden over the cold months. If they’re slippery or simply unkempt, chances are you won’t venture near your produce until you see it running to seed in spring.
You’ve spent all summer and spring working in your garden. With an autumn clean-up out of the way, you can light the fire, kick back, and enjoy gazing out the winter at the results of all your effort.