The Kitchen Garden in Mid Winter

Mid-Winter

Like your plants, which are dormant in mid-winter, you can rest at this time, although not completely. This is the season to look back on the triumphs and failures of last summer and to look forward to the new season and the changes that should be made in routine and choice of crops.

If you have not so far grown crops to a planned rotation, you can plan one now; if you have been using one, mid-winter is a good time to consider whether it is successful, or if not, what alternative arrangement you can make. It may be that you need to grow more of some crops and less of others, depending on your family’s preferences, and the type of soil and weather prevailing in your area. You may feel that varieties of certain crops could be changed or there may be some new ones available, which are heavier cropping, earlier, or better flavoured.

All these ideas can be put on paper now, just as the new season’s seed catalogues arrive and while the weather forbids outdoor work for most of this season and the next one. Snow, frost, gales and floods can be the order of the day; no new plant growth will be showing above ground in the vegetable or fruit garden unless you take steps to encourage it.

Work will consist mainly of finishing off jobs and guarding remaining crops against the weather and birds. But the gardening year never stops completely, and there is always some plant ready to start growing. Early potato varieties can be put to sprout in mid-winter and forcing of outdoor rhubarb can begin. In mild and sheltered gardens, crops which are being wintered under cloches may start to put out fresh leaves, in particular spinach and chives, and herbs in the greenhouse may also begin to grow.

Jobs to Do

Digging

Finish the digging and manuring as soon as possible, when the weather and soil conditions permit.

Improving the soil

testing soil to discover its pHAnother method of improving the soil, besides manuring, is liming. It is important to do this carefully and not to lime indiscriminately; it is easy to overlime but almost impossible to reduce the alkalinity to a desirable level. Although liming the vegetable garden was formerly regarded as a routine annual job, it is by no means essential and it can easily do more harm than good. A very alkaline soil can result in deficiencies of several mineral nutrients in certain plants, to do because the alkalinity reacts upon these nutrients so that their nature is changed, and the roots of such plants cannot absorb them.

So it is important to find out what the pH value of your soil is – that is, the degree of acidity or alkalinity – before liming it. The pH value is a scale of values in which neutrality (the point exactly between acidity and alkalinity) is 7.0; anything lower than this is acid, and above it, alkaline.

You can test your soil with a proprietary soil-testing kit available from garden shops — directions for using it will be given with the kit.

Lime has an additional structural benefit on heavy clay soils; due to a chemical and physical reaction with the clay particles, it helps to improve the drainage and aeration. Some soil-borne fungus diseases, such as clubroot of brassicas, are encouraged in acid soils and a little lime will help to keep them at bay.

There are two sorts of lime chiefly used in crop gardening: hydrated (slaked) lime (calcium hydroxide), and ground limestone (calcium carbonate). Hydrated lime is quick acting and caustic; it will burn plant leaves and stems; ground lime is slow acting and safer to use. Its effect is gradual and long-lasting (chalk is similar to ground limestone but less slow in its effect).

a soil sample is placed in a glass tube, indicator solution added to it and the mixture thoroughly shakenLime can be put on about six weeks after adding organic matter, not at the same time, otherwise it reacts with it so that nitrogen is given off and lost as ammonia. Better still, put it on in the year you are not manuring a particular piece of soil, for instance where root crops are to be grown. If you add it in the same season as organic matter, even with a gap of several weeks between the two applications, there will still be some loss of nitrogen. Lime should be sprinkled evenly all over the area to be treated and then forked lightly in. If you do not have access to a chart, average rates of ground limestone to apply to a soil of pH 5.0 are: 210g per sq m (7oz per sq yd) for sandy soil, 300g per sq m (10oz per sq yd) for loam, and 420g per sq m (14oz per sq yd) for clay soil. Soft fruit has no particular preference for acid or alkaline soils, but grows marginally better in those which are slightly acid, about pH 6.5.

Sprouting

Mid-winter is the time to get early varieties of potatoes going, so that they are ready for planting in early spring. Small tubers are used, about the size of a hen’s egg, and they are put in single layers in containers in a light cool place, to encourage the dormant buds or ‘eyes’ to start growing; where the ‘eyes’ crowd together is the top of the tuber.

Forcing

Chicory and rhubarb can still be forced in succession. Outdoor rhubarb can also be forced by covering the crowns with boxes, buckets or barrels, and then piling leafmould, straw or garden compost round and over the containers, so that the plants are in the dark and protected from cold. Depending on the weather, stems should be ready for pulling about six weeks later.

Spraying

If the winter wash was not applied in early winter, it can still be done in mid-winter, or even in late winter, although by that time there will be many other jobs to do.

Choosing crops

The new season’s vegetable seed catalogues are published during early and mid-winter and it is a good time to order your new stock. There will be new varieties to try, old ones which were successful to re-order, others to discard and completely new vegetables to experiment with. Your family’s likes and dislikes need to be remembered; the expensive vegetables are well worth growing and those that are not available in most shops are particularly desirable to grow: Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, endive, calabrese, celeriac, winter radish and kohlrabi are prime examples.

As with vegetables, you can choose the most suitable fruit varieties at this time, but it is much more a ‘one-off’ job; once done, you will not need to choose again for many years, except for strawberries. But make sure that you get plants certified free from virus disease; certified schemes will be mentioned in the nursery catalogues.

Pruning

If the vine pruning has not been done, this should be completed with all possible speed.

Ventilating

On the occasional fine, mild day, give the greenhouse, cloches and frames, a good airing, otherwise keep the ventilators only just open. Clean off any condensation from the inside and any snow from the roof outside. In bitterly cold weather, shut down the ventilators completely, until the weather changes for the better again.

Stored crops

Check the roots, potatoes, onions and so on occasionally for rotting and mice attacks; also check the temperature in case of frost if they are in an outdoor store.

Planning

Growing plants to provide food will be much more successful if you take time, before planting or sowing, to think about various aspects of their cultivation. The soft fruits, for instance, are permanent crops which are likely to be in the ground for at least twelve years. It is worth taking care over choosing the site, aspect, soil and its initial treatment. When planning the layout of the plants, remember that room should be allowed, not only for growth, but for comfortable picking, pruning, spraying and cultivating.

swiss chard is one of hte few dual-purpose vegetables - the leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach, and the stems like asparagus - which they resemble in flavour

Choose sunny and warm sites where there is shelter from wind. Blackberries and loganberries will tolerate a little shade. A position with easy access to water is advisable, as soft fruit often needs some irrigation in most summers. Unless you are very cramped for space, keep the fruit separate from the vegetables, except during the first year or two, while the bushes and canes are growing. The space available between the plants in the early stages can be used for the smaller vegetable crops.

Vegetables are nearly all annual crops; one or two are permanent and some are biennial. In order to make use of all the nutrients available at different levels of soil and prevent the build-up of soil-borne disease and pests, the various vegetables should be grown on different pieces of ground each year.

There are many vegetables grown, but the business of what to grow where can be simplified, since they can be put into three groups: the brassicas and leaf crops, the root crops and the legumes. The remainder which do not fit exactly into these groups can be put with one or another of them, according to their cultivation requirements. To practice crop rotation, you divide your vegetable plot into three, and grow each group on them in turn.

At the end of the first growing season, each group moves on one, so that A goes to B’s place, B goes to C’s place, and C goes to A’s place. At the end of the second growing season, all move on a place again and by the time the fourth growing season starts, each group is back in its original site.

The most important point about rotation is that brassicas do not occupy the same ground more than one year in three. The crops that need potash particularly, as well as some manure but not as much as group A, are all in group B, and can follow the brassicas. The crops that should not be grown in ground manured the previous winter are the roots, but they do appreciate a little fertilizer. With them, you can group those crops for which manure is dug in during early spring, as they will not be planted out until late spring or even early summer.

The manure for the brassicas should be put on in autumn if possible; some gardeners advocate planting them in ground immediately after lifting early potatoes so that they are grown on ground manured for a previous crop, but this can mean that the soil is rather loose and soft, and may lead to ‘blowing’.

The group of movables can be fitted in where suitable, remembering that they are mostly leafy crops and need to grow fast, so that group A or B would probably be best. However, leek remains in the ground most of the year, so would perhaps fit best with group A; lettuce and radish are particularly quick-growing, so make good catch crops, and endive might fit in after a crop of early beetroot or carrot. Permanent crops which are not included in the rotation are globe artichoke, asparagus and rhubarb. Lastly, tradition has it that onions are best in the same bed every year, if they do well in it, but they are subject to various diseases, so it would seem advisable to include them in a rotation, which also takes into account the manure and fertilizer needs of each vegetable.

29. August 2011 by admin
Categories: Kitchen Garden, Vegetable Gardening | Tags: , | Comments Off on The Kitchen Garden in Mid Winter

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