Plant now to beat win­ter cold



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.


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!


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.


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.


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.

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