In The Garden :: Prepping For Winter
Change is in the air.
Cool winds are rippling through the coloured foliage of our majestic highland trees. Whilst the vibrant reds, oranges and yellows spill out onto our gardens and are gathered up by raspy rakes on the dry earth, so too are we in a season of gathering the last of the autumn crops from our beautiful green spaces.
Our baskets still overflow with roses, herbs, greens, aubergine, carrots, snow peas, the errant zucchini or cucumber, a few chillies, and the final baskets of tomatoes are collected and their life giving vines plucked from the earth and strung up out of frosts way to ripen up any late developers. Our kitchens are full of gathered goodies and our pantries are lined with jars of goodness so we can unlock little bottles of sunshine throughout the year. We're prepping for winter.
Local garden and landscape designer Peter Morgan, from Plantlife, relishes what the autumnal winds blow our way in the Highlands; “I love gardening anytime of the year! What I love about autumn is being out in those clear, crisp days amongst the brilliance of colours and rugging up as it starts to get wild”. He says “The transition from autumn to winter in the Highlands always brings some apprehension though, there is change all around, seemingly endless cleaning up of leaves, the Winter is on its way – when is that first frost going to happen? It's definitely a challenge”.
Growing food in winter.
One of the alluring aspects to growing food in our climate is that in winter, all is not lost! In fact some of my favourite foods thrive in my garden all winter long. Lovely, elegant leeks waft in the breeze and then their aroma mingles beautifully in my mum's delicious pumpkin soup recipe.
Ahhh, that brings me to pumpkins.... pumpkins. Has there been a more well orchestrated vegetable? Ripening in perfect unison with a season that begs for a rich, warm, creamy blend of goodies from your garden. My only problem this year is that my annual garden rummage for these beautiful beasts uncovered three rather meek looking Jarrah's and a forest of strange white cross bred interlopers!!! My beautiful pumpkin seedlings had been planted too near a white squash, and now it appears I have invented a rather bizarre breed... neither delicate enough for a stir fry, nor substantial enough for a soup..... ahhhh... there is always next year. And that is the wonderful thing about gardens, there is always hope. Some years we are knee deep in pumpkins or pears or cherries or apples.... the next we are bereft, but there is always hope that the following season mother earth, and the additional year of wisdom, will herald much wonder.
While we hold our collective green thumbed breathes over the impact the first frosts will have on our plots, Peter Morgan explains that the milder temperatures of this year's autumn has brought it's benefits, he says “We've had extended summer conditions into autumn, so we have benefited from the additional production of food -tomatoes galore! - and winter veggie seedlings will have had better conditions in which to establish”.
What to plant in winter.
So, what will be taking up residence in our garden beds over winter? Part of the beauty of the Highlands, is it's variety and we have a broad spectrum of micro climates to play in. Indeed even within your own backyard you may find, or even create, mini climates to protect or pander to particular growing needs. So, experiment.
Peter Morgan advises to fill our beds with “Leafy greens that can thrive in cool climate gardens – plant cauliflower, spinach, parsley, lettuces, cabbage, broccoli, silverbeet and kale that grows really well here as well as root vegetables such as beetroot, leek, onion, parsnip, carrot, potatoes, swede and turnip. Broad beans also grow well here”.
Winter 'spring' clean!
Whilst some are counting down the days till we see the blossoms of spring bursting forth, I welcome the cooler months to do an annual tidy up of ornamental garden beds that have been ravaged by weeds or exuberant climbers. It's a chance to re-set, rein in the recalcitrants and ready oneself for the enthusiasm of spring. Plantlife gardening expert Peter Morgan's top tips for winter garden preparation are:
- Prune back overgrown plantings around the vegetable garden to maximise the low winter sun.
- Clean up debris and veg material laying around to discourage overwintering of pests.
- Check establishing winter vegetables for pests and disease regularly to prevent any setbacks to growth.
- Seaweed soil conditioner is great for adding nutrients and developing growth
- Occasionally let the chooks (under supervision!) have a scratch throughout the beds to dig up and eat curl grubs ready to reduce populations.
A very simple, low maintenance crop that is growing voraciously right now, that will reward you with wonderful flavour, and no vampires, year after year, is garlic. I have LOTS of garlic... too much? Never! Many years ago our garden was chosen to guard special seed that had been nurtured and loved for many years by a dear friend on his property that he was having to leave... and his garlic needed a home before he found another place to put down it's roots. Our parting gift at the end of the growing season was a huge seed bank of our own of the most beautiful purple and white organic garlic. Each year, around Anzac Day, my family prepare a generous space in our food forest for these little friends to hunker down for the winter. We give the soil a light feed of goodness from our compost heap and then we carefully unfurl the dainty drops of individual cloves and gently push them into the friable soil.
Once the entire bed is laced with seed and the victims of the two year old's 'planting' efforts unburied and re-homed, we then tuck them up tight under a warm blanket of pea straw or lucern, keep them watered and watch their strong stalks reach for the sky throughout the winter months. Apart from weeding out any unwanted companions, that's all we do. Seriously, until November garlic is totally independent. It's in the most busy time of the year that sadly they become their most needy. Yep, smack bang in the middle of the madness of end of year school activities, Christmas shopping and the endless stream of wonderful social activities, your garlic will want to be pulled up, sorted (into those for eating or seeds for next year – pick your best!), and then hung up for 2 weeks to dry.
Oh... and in that 2 weeks your busy schedule has turned from hectic to frantic and then you need to set aside a dirty day of trimming roots and plaiting beautiful garlic wreaths for your kitchen or for those last minutes Christmas gifts. It's soooo good... an enforced break from the madness... to reconnect with reality, to slow down and meditate on the job at hand. I can highly recommend plaiting to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata or some magical Mozart. My phone's classical playlist really gets a work out during garlic harvest. My family, friends and I feast on the harvested garlic all year round, either freshly plucked from a wreath or scooped out of a delicious preserving jar. One of my little joys in life is knowing that in the past six years my family have never bought garlic that has thousands of food miles attached to it, let alone pesticides.
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If all of this garden chat has you inspired to get planting, you're going to want to read Kirstine's post all about getting started on your kitchen garden journey.