Growing your own Vegetables and Fruit
Enjoy growing and eating fresh veg and fruit when you want it.
Here, help is at hand month by month so you can see what you should be doing on your plot when growing your own vegetables and your own fruit. The weather and where you live make a huge difference to what grows, or not, but doing anything is better than nothing. Use the links above if you want specific information on a fruit or veg, or to see what you should have done last month.
December can be a grey, dark month, so brighten things up and plant some colourful bulbs in pots to go round your veg patch and flower next year. You don’t need many, but the yellow of daffodils and the red of tulips signals the start of the veg growing season as you look out from the kitchen window.
Most garden centres and DIY stores sell off their bulbs cheaply now, but it’s not too late to plant them. Bulbs with new shoots are fine, but don’t buy any that are soft.
December 2009 was the coldest for 13 years, and heralded the start of a cold snap that lasted ‘till the end of February, and it was again record breaking, the coldest winter for 25 years! The snow fell heavily here on 17 December and seemed to stay put all winter! And then December 2010 seemed even colder. The snow arrived here on 26 November, stayed for two weeks, thawed and then returned. You couldn’t lift veg in the ground as they were frozen solid. Officially it was the coldest December on record, so it was a relief when December 2011 was distinctly average, and felt almost warm. December 2013 was the mildest since 1988, and the windiest since 1969.
Depending on where you are, some crops can be started off now. If you have a greenhouse for instance, off you go, but even a windowsill, or a fleece lined mini-greenhouse facing south may get warm enough for some seeds to germinate. Once they are peeping through, keep them frost free and they’ll have a head start growth wise in early spring. Or, start some broad beans or peas off in pots somewhere warmish, and keep them contented until spring when you can plant them out under a cover. Keep the tray/root trainer securely covered or a mouse will eat the bean/pea before it can germinate.
Remember all that compost you dug out of your bins? If you bagged it up, or stored it on a sheet you can bring it out now onto the veg patch and put on needy soil around the garden. It’s best not to empty compost bins now as you may disturb a hibernating animal, or frog.
If you have stored fruit and veg in a garage or cellar, keep checking it. The saying ‘One bad apple’ is true and the same goes for a potato. Any funny smells need to be investigated as they are not usually good news. (In my hut the nasty small was a sadly deceased frog, the potatoes were fine!)
You know those neat little onion sets you planted last month? Are they all out and higgly-piggly on your soil? Blame the birds, who have dug them up and thrown them around. Replant them, trying to lightly cover with soil, and put some netting, or chicken wire down until the plants have rooted and are strong enough to withstand attack.
Tradition has it that it’s best to plant garlic (and shallots) on the shortest day of the year – which is about 22 December. Give it a go! It’s so easy to plant garlic cloves, or shallot sets, and then you don’t have to do anything bar a little weeding until harvesting in the summer.
If you’ve time on your hands, start pruning your apple and pear trees. Or stand and look at them anyway, planning what you are going to do, and then check in a pruning guide that you are right. But make sure you prune before the tree springs into life using sharp tools. Don’t be tempted to prune plum or cherry, wait till the summer as they are vulnerable to a disease if pruned now.
If you have plenty of winter greens out in the plot, trim off any yellowing leaves and put them on the compost. It means slugs and even caterpillars have nowhere to hide! Even in mid November 2007, and 2009 I found caterpillars on Kale.
Any willow that you have growing can be used to create more. Cut off some whips (a whip is a cutting made by selecting a healthy shoot and cutting diagonally across under a bud (= base of whip) and then about 25cm up cut straight across above a bud). Soak the base for 24 hours in water before planting, which should be done by making a hole with a screwdriver or stick about 10-15cm deep and pushing the base of the whip into the hole (leaving 10cm and at least three buds pointing up, above the soil). Fill with soil if needed, and keep well watered and weed free if possible and don’t plant near a building or drain.
Leaves, leaves, leaves. They look lovely on the tree but seem to go on filling up the garden and paths long after the trees are bare. Try to create leafmould if you have the space (see last month’s job list), but clear them off the lawn, and if they are smothering low plants. Leave (!) lots to gather under trees and behind hedges so that wildlife can overwinter in them, and worms can add them to your soil.
Relatives may ask what you’d like for Christmas – a gardeners dream. Think of items you would have liked during the year, and suggest these. A cloche tunnel for instance, or an obelisk or trellis, or a trough or a small greenhouse, or even just a mini-greenhouse. Then there are always useful items like secateurs, gloves, labels, trugs, a really big pot, or garden centre vouchers! They could give you all sorts of trays, propagators, root trainers, wellies the list goes on. Books are always useful and every year there seem to be so many ‘new’ books on how to grow veg and flowers! And a kitchen garden or growing your own veg magazine subscription to would be useful all year.
Come Christmas Day, see how much you can pick from your plot to put on the table. If you were busy back in April/May you could have home grown parsnips, red cabbage, Brussels sprouts. And from your store hopefully there will be carrots, potatoes and apples for a crumble to follow. But if that didn’t quite come off this year, there is always next Christmas!
Plant this month:
For Xmas lunch 2007 I took potatoes and carrots from the store, then lifted some leeks, beetroot, chard, turnip, cabbage, and some rocket. It was delicious, and I didn’t have to run the gauntlet of the Christmas Supermarket frenzy. In 2008 the mid December snow, and freezing temperatures made everything look very sad, brown and damaged. But, the beetroot was great, as were the leeks, cabbages and Brussels sprouts. For Christmas 2009 everywhere was covered in snow, and the ground was frozen solid and impossible to dig! So the parsnips and carrots stayed put, but a few Kale leaves were picked. December 2009 turned out to be the coldest for 13 years, and the frozen ground certainly put paid to any work in the veg patch. December 2010 was frustrating in the veg patch as snow and frozen ground were the mainstay. I bought some permealay to put down to cover the ground, and keep down the creeping buttercup, but never managed to lay it down. The Brussels sprouts picked in December were nice though, just not for Xmas, and made a tasty meal with the leeks, kale and chard. 2011 saw lots of parsnips, which had disappeared from view, but I knew they were under the ground, Kale, Chard, Leeks, Beetroot. Added to for Xmas lunch by the stored potatoes. December 2012 was so wet! There was nothing left to dig out from the plot, and I was left to look at the photos of previous years’ produce. The cabbages I planted in the summer still looked the same size as when planted. But there was colour in the garden from the berries on shrubs that seemed have done well, and the damp loving red stems of dogwoods. December 2013 was mild, and wet, and sometimes very windy. Calendula were still in flower, as were violas, and the lettuces in the greenhouse kept coming everytime they were snipped. For the first winter in many years we have had no snow in Harrogate, yet. The leek planted in the autumn are strong, and may just be pulled for Xmas day lunch. This Dec was the eighth mildest in records dating back to 1910, and the mildest since 1988, and the windiest December in records from 1969 with many people spending a miserable Christmas with no power, floods and high winds