Re­silient grow­ing

The all-new re­silient gar­dener, with Kim Stod­dart

Country Smallholding - - Welcome -

Win­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties

It’s that time of year when we re­ally start to no­tice the leaves fall­ing from the trees and the day­light hours re­duc­ing. Our thoughts slowly but surely turn to the win­ter months ahead. In the nat­u­ral world, for many ben­e­fi­cial crea­tures such as birds, this means eat­ing enough to see them through the harsher weather and scarcer pick­ings, food-wise. Whilst for oth­ers, such as a new queen bum­ble­bee, this will mean find­ing a nice com­post pile or bank in which to hi­ber­nate un­til spring. Lady­birds (the queen of the aphid eaters) mean­while favour old net­tles or a nice pile of leaves to see them through. So a metic­u­lously cleaned-up veg patch hardly en­cour­ages these hugely help­ful crit­ters to hang about.

It’s just one ex­am­ple of why it re­ally is best to let your plot grow more than a lit­tle wild over win­ter. If you rig­or­ously cut back and clear away seed heads and old spent crops then you are re­mov­ing a po­ten­tial source of food and shel­ter for many of these gar­den­ing helpers. In ad­di­tion to this, bare ground is ter­ri­bly vul­ner­a­ble to ero­sion over win­ter and can ex­ac­er­bate the leach­ing away of ben­e­fi­cial nu­tri­ents and min­er­als, which will in turn di­min­ish the qual­ity and pro­duc­tiv­ity of your soil. Heavy rain is the worst of­fender and, with­out ground cover to help bind the soil to­gether, much of the good­ness can be washed away all too eas­ily.

Build greater re­silience in your plot over win­ter

Keep your soil well-com­posted as it will en­able it to ab­sorb more wa­ter.

Avoid bare soil. Where win­ter crops aren’t grow­ing, use green ma­nure or even weeds (of a non-eva­sive-va­ri­ety) to pro­vide some pro­tec­tion. Also, leave some of your spent crops such as corn, peas and beans in the ground as it helps the soil bet­ter deal with a win­ter bat­ter­ing. Grow­ing many

It re­ally is best to let your plot grow more than a lit­tle wild over win­ter

ed­i­ble peren­ni­als is also use­ful for the same rea­son, so crops such as Jerusalem ar­ti­choke, rhubarb, as­para­gus and so forth re­ally come into their own.

Avoid tread­ing on wet ground as do­ing so causes dam­age.

Cre­ate wildlife havens where you can to pro­vide a win­ter home for many ben­e­fi­cial crea­tures. A pile of twigs, a nat­u­ral fence, com­post bin, a leaf mould pile and such like will make all the dif­fer­ence.

If you have a field that is prone to mi­nor flood­ing, one mea­sure you can take, along­side the usual drainage work, is to plant fruit trees and bushes at the top as these will help ab­sorb wa­ter in­creas­ingly over time as they grow. Also it’s a great ex­cuse for your own home-grown sup­ply of fruity love­li­ness.

Last but by no means, least, please dig less. As Charles Dowd­ing will tes­tify af­ter his many years of work promoting the no-dig mes­sage, break­ing the cap­il­lary struc­ture of top­soil is dam­ag­ing. Soil left in­tact is much bet­ter able to ab­sorb wa­ter. Your back will also thank you for putting that spade away!

Wildlife watch: feed the birds

Our feath­ered friends re­ally do pro­vide a ben­e­fi­cial ser­vice on the veg patch. As well as peck­ing off pests such as aphids and slugs, they are also a de­light to be­hold. Of course some, such as pi­geons and black­birds, can also peck at crops, but if you’ve ever sat and lis­tened to a black­birds’ nightly song, then I think you’d be hard pushed to hold that against them for long. They’ll be pre­par­ing for win­ter about now, so why not also help them out with some bird feed­ers and a nice wa­ter bath.

Us­ing fallen leaves

If you want leaf­mould to use as a seed com­post or soil im­prover, then it helps to think about copy­ing what hap­pens nat­u­rally in a wood. So, rather than set­ting up a des­ig­nated leaf mould bin, why not look at us­ing this fan­tas­tic, free ma­te­rial in a much more low-main­te­nance but sen­si­ble way.

Check to see if you have a leaf mould col­lec­tion al­ready. If you have a lot of trees on your land, it’s most likely that you do. I found sev­eral spots where leaves had been fall­ing and clev­erly rot­ting down for years. Look for shaded (rel­a­tively weed-free spots) un­der trees and then sim­ply add more leaves to the piles here for use as early as the fol­low­ing spring be­cause thin­ner lay­ers rot down a lot quicker.

Leaves can also be added straight to your com­post pile as a brown layer. As well as help­ing to cre­ate your own sup­ply of gar­den­ing gold, you’ll also be cre­at­ing a nice wildlife pile to help with over­win­ter­ing. What’s not to like?

Poly­tun­nel grow­ing

A plas­tic or glass house en­ables you ex­tend the grow­ing sea­son that bit fur­ther. On even the worst weather days, it makes gar­den­ing much more bear­able, or pro­vides a nice place in which to sit and ad­mire the fruits of your labour as you lis­ten to the rain out­side.

It is im­por­tant to look af­ter your struc­ture in or­der to have the best re­sults, es­pe­cially in the case of an older poly­tun­nel. It will help you keep it go­ing that bit longer be­fore it needs re­cov­er­ing.

First off, a clean at this time of year is ad­vis­able as it helps en­sure you make the most of the re­duced lev­els of day­light. You don’t need to buy a special clean­ing so­lu­tion ei­ther, just a sponge (or brush for the ceil­ing) and a pres­sure washer or hose, and scrub away. Do avoid get­ting too close with the pres­sure washer, how­ever; if you’re not care­ful, it can dam­age the plas­tic. It’s not the most fun of jobs, so I’d rec­om­mend rop­ing in a helper or two to aid you on your way.

Once done, it’s im­por­tant to ex­am­ine the plas­tic to see if there are any tears that need patch­ing. This needs to be done sooner rather than later as a strong win­ter gale can at best stretch a hole even bigge or, at worst (in a weak­ened cover), pull it off en­tirely.

If you keep this up and look af­ter your poly­tun­nel, it can in turn keep go­ing for many, many years.

A veg grow­ing area with a wildlife ‘wall’

Leave seeds heads in the ground

Pro­vide win­ter shel­ter for bum­ble­bees and other pol­li­na­tors

Kim cleans her poly­tun­nel

Helle­bores with a leaf­mould stash in be­tween

Baby car­rots from the poly­tun­nel

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