Plant now to beat winter cold
PLANT CABBAGES AND KALE NOW
There’s still enough warmth in the ground for cabbage and kale seedlings to establish their root systems and get some growth on before the really cold weather arrives. The soil is pleasant to work right now, being moist and friable following the summer and autumn crops. Add homemade compost at planting time and those brassicas will get off to a flying start to their winter season of growth. If you planned ahead and sowed your own cabbage and kale seed earlier in the season, and now have plenty of healthy seedlings, you’ll be thrilled with your foresight and pleased to have clubroot-free seedlings that won’t cause you grief later on, as those already-infected seedlings brought in from outside your garden would. It’s always worth taking the safe option when brassicas are involved, as clubroot is devastating to those of us who love to eat any of the brassica family. Soak seedlings in warmed water, enhanced with a little seaweed tea, before transplanting them into the open air beds they’ll grow in over the next few months. White butterflies won’t bother them – here in the South anyway – thanks to the cooler temperatures.
PICK THE LAST OF YOUR PEACHES
My peaches are just becoming ripe, following a slower and later-than-usual season, so those gorgeous globes of goodness are even more special this year. I’m mindful though, that the birds have waited as patiently as I have for the peaches to ripen and have already begun sampling; this is something I do not support and will bring in the crop this week, now that signs of pecking have appeared. My main crops ‘Golden Queen’ and ‘Blackboy’ are two that seem to best suit growing in the cooler South, though I’m keen to try others and that includes nectarines which excite my tastebuds in the same way peaches do. I have dozens of nectarine pits tucked into the soil with the expectation of seedlings in the spring, with which I’ll expand my nectarine orchard. I’m told that peaches can be picked while still firm and bottled for eating, and while I accept that’s true, none seem to make it back to the house when I’m the harvester, whether they are juicy or firm!
LATE AUTUMN TASKS FOR TUNNELHOUSES
In the tunnelhouse, it’s time to clean up after summer and autumn crops. Empty the space of all vegetation, adding the healthy material to your compost heap and the suspect to the incinerator. Rake out roots as well and deposit those outside. Cultivate the soil and consider whether it needs to be replaced or at least enriched with fresh compost. Do a simple pH test to check the acidity levels of your soil and if necessary, make adjustments to that, most likely with an application of lime.
Give the soil a good, deep watering to wash away accumulated salts and while you have hose in hand, wash and wipe the transparent surfaces
of your tunnelhouse, using white vinegar as a cleaning agent if there’s any moss, mould or grime present. Many people plant potatoes in the tunnelhouse now to grow over winter for a out-of-season treat and you might like to experiment with this. Brassicas that do well outside over winter can do even better when grown under the cover of plastic, so long as you are watchful for insect and fungal harm.
TAKE CUTTINGS FROM YOUR TREE DAHLIAS
Multiply your tree dahlias by cutting segments from the fat, hollow stems and planting them directly into where you’d like them to grow. Take single segments that include two nodes and lay them horizontally in the soil, about 5cm deep. Tree dahlias grow very tall, so choose somewhere sheltered, or where they can be tethered. Tree dahlias flower late in the season and their large ephemeral flowers are delightful against a winter sky. Being a fast-growing plant, they need soil that is both rich and well irrigated. Set among other tall plants growing in a wellnourished part of the garden, these huge, flowering plants will excite visitors to your garden with their pastel blooms.
WEED AROUND NEWLY PLANTED SEEDLINGS
My baby parsley plants are growing well, but so are the wild fumitory seedlings all around them. Weeds have the advantage over any cultivated plant. They have been encouraged by centuries of adaptation in response to treatment by gardeners and farmers who seek to destroy them, to survive and thrive anywhere and to do so quickly. Now’s a good time to pull out these weeds and consign them to the compost heap, leaving the chosen plants – like my parsley – to grow on unhindered. While the soil is still friable, pull weeds out by hand. An alternative to this is working the soil between your rows of plants with a nice sharp torpedo hoe.