Resilient Grow­ing

For­get leav­ing your veg patch ex­posed to the el­e­ments this win­ter. Bed it down in a dif­fer­ent way, says Kim Stod­dart

Country Smallholding - - Contents - Kim Stod­dart teaches resilient growyour-own cour­ses from her small­hold­ing in Ceredi­gion. These are fo­cused around poly­tun­nel grow­ing and cli­mate change gar­den­ing. For in­for­ma­tion, visit www. green­rock­et­courses.com; tel: 07796 677178.

With Kim Stod­dart

Ac­cord­ing to much tra­di­tional ad­vice, Oc­to­ber is a great time to pull out your spent plants and dig over the veg patch, break­ing up the soil as you go be­cause ex­pos­ing it to el­e­ments is ap­par­ently the right thing to do. Yet, in re­al­ity, this is the ab­so­lute worst thing you can do for your soil, your veg patch and your fu­ture grow­ing ef­forts right now. Truth be told, it has never been a sen­si­ble op­tion, just a case of work gen­er­a­tion based on the prac­tices de­signed to keep coun­try es­tate gar­den­ers busy at this qui­eter time of year and there­fore out of mis­chief. Much main­stream ad­vice to this day is still based around this gar­den­ing cal­en­dar of yore, and it is frankly su­per­flu­ous to day-to-day re­quire­ments at best.

In the case of dig­ging, we also know from my fel­low colum­nist, Charles Dowding, the ben­e­fits of putting the spade away. In the case of pro­tect­ing your pre­cious soil against the ex­cess of win­ter rain (which we have ex­pe­ri­enced in abun­dance these past few years), and which some cli­mate change com­men­ta­tors are say­ing could be the new norm, it is now more vi­tal than ever. Nu­tri­ents leach­ing away as a re­sult of rain­wa­ter is a real and press­ing is­sue. As much as pos­si­ble, it is in­stead es­sen­tial to pro­vide win­ter pro­tec­tion for your loam, which is at the heart of your grow­ing ef­forts mov­ing for­ward.

So don’t pull out your plants, or turn over the soil and leave it bare and at its most vul­ner­a­ble ex­posed to the el­e­ments. This is truly a ter­ri­ble thing to do. As well as re­sult­ing in di­min­ished fer­til­ity (and there­fore more work for you the fol­low­ing sea­son), it is also an aw­ful lot of back­break­ing ef­fort. In­stead, here is how to kick back and, at the same time, sen­si­bly bed down your veg patch with re­silience and fu­ture plant pro­duc­tiv­ity in mind.

Leav­ing plants in the ground

Al­low­ing spent crops to de­com­pose nat­u­rally en­ables their fo­liage to pro­vide a de­gree of pro­tec­tion (and cover) for the soil above ground, as well as struc­ture be­low as the roots con­tinue to hold the loam to­gether, en­abling it to deal with a greater volume of wa­ter than purely bare ground, which is much less hardy.

Also, some plants can ac­tu­ally grow on much longer than you might have imag­ined any­way. Loose leaf win­ter bras­si­cas, such as kale and chard, can be left in the ground un­til next year for an abun­dant avail­abil­ity of leaves come the hun­gry gap in spring. Like­wise, beet­root will also pro­vide a lovely supply of spinach­like leaves the fol­low­ing sea­son.

Leav­ing peas and beans in the ground helps to make the most of their ni­tro­gen­fix­ing prop­er­ties to boot.

Let the weeds grow

If you have an un­avoid­able bare area of ground, then let­ting some non-in­va­sive

weeds grow is bet­ter than noth­ing. Although they will need to be re­moved swiftly come spring, their very pres­ence will pro­vide a de­gree of valu­able pro­tec­tion.

Per­fect peren­ni­als

These weather hardy plants are an in­creas­ingly sen­si­ble op­tion and they work well weaved into your veg patch plant­ing where pos­si­ble (rhubarb, as­para­gus, Oca, Jerusalem ar­ti­choke et al). Soft fruit bushes can also be suc­cess­fully grown among pro­duce, or at the top of a patch to pro­vide an ad­di­tional layer of pro­tec­tion in the bat­tle against the press­ing threat of fer­til­ity leach away.

Grow­ing un­der cover

If the long range weather fore­casts were cor­rect ear­lier in the year, we could be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing above av­er­age tem­per­a­tures well into Oc­to­ber. When you have a poly­tun­nel or green­house, this means that some of the sum­mer pro­duce can keep grow­ing that bit longer. Toma­toes, aubergines, chill­ies, pep­pers and cu­cum­bers could there­fore still hap­pily carry on pro­duc­ing un­til early De­cem­ber if the con­di­tions are mild enough. Do re­mem­ber, how­ever, to en­sure suf­fi­cient air flow dur­ing the day where pos­si­ble as closed doors and win­dows will re­sult in a build-up of mould and disease that could fin­ish off the plants as quickly as a sud­den cold snap. You want at least a lit­tle air flow­ing through the tun­nel as much as pos­si­ble, es­pe­cially on fair weather days.

This ap­proach also helps to keep let­tuces crisp and healthy for longer so that you can leave them in the ground and keep har­vest­ing. The pick and come again va­ri­eties are eas­ier to over­win­ter. Again air­flow is a big fac­tor in this. You can just pick off any lower leaves if they ap­pear to be af­fected by mould to avoid it spread­ing.

Chilli plants don’t need to be left to die off; they can over­win­ter suc­cess­fully as house­plants in a heated home, so now is a good time to pot or move them on.

Make sure to leave ground cover now for the win­ter

Leave bean and pea plants in the ground when they have fin­ished pro­duc­ing

Pick­ing bras­sica leaves for tea in spring

Keep­ing a lit­tle air flow­ing into your poly­tun­nel will keep let­tuces crisp and healthy for longer

Chilli plants don’t need to be left to die off

Toma­toes can carry on pro­duc­ing un­til De­cem­ber

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