Tag Archives: strawberries

GWM – Working in the Garden

December is the time coming up to the solstice which is a time most folk celebrate. At last after each day getting darker and darker, the sun turns about and the days begin to get longer again in the temperate latitudes. Part of the celebrations usually include a feast … and that means vegetables as well as your meat (if you eat it), so we need to care for and harvest the veg we’re going to eat.

This year, in Britain, we have heavy snow and extreme cold, like minus 12, 15 or 20 in the countryside, even the towns are rarely rising above freezing during the day. This makes life very difficult for harvesting. Winter vegetables are often very good at “standing”, i.e. remaining in the ground until you want to eat them, but getting them out when the ground is frozen is a whole other matter. Things like leeks, which are stems or rather leaves which have changed their form quite a lot so they all bind together into the familiar shape we know, are mostly water, and water freezes. Tugging at a frozen leek in the frozen ground means you break off a green icicle more often than not.

Here, we don’t have too much of a problem because we have cultivated and pampered the soil with tons (literally) of organic matter over the past ten years. In consequence the ground doesn’t freeze so solid, or rather it takes longer and lower temperatures to make it do so, so we can dig our leeks still, and our beetroots, swedes, turnips, parsnips, the root veg that make such delicacies at midwinter feasts. You can’t actually do much about improving your soil in this kind of weather – although mulches will help to some extent, but you can think about how you’ll change things in the coming year.

And you can look after the veg you have.

Brussels sprouts are famous for this time of year. If you like them, then picking them correctly will help the plants do well. Start by picking the sprouts at the bottom first and working up the stem. And don’t forget to firm them in regularly, each time you pick firm in the roots with your heel. The plants must have their roots in good contact with the soil all the time, particularly in the freezing weather. If they are not then not only with the roots freeze but, if they survive that they won’t be able to get water and nutrients unless the roots touch the earth. The contact enables the transference of food and water.

The same goes for the winter cabbages and sproutings. Make sure they are securely “seated” in the ground.

As you firm you can also make sure you take out any weeds that have survived too. You do this when you pull leeks, swedes, turnips, beets – any root veg that you’re going to pull out of the ground. The pulling naturally disturbs the soil so the weeds will come too. Don’t leave them lying about but put them into the compost straight away.

In the bad weather the birds will need food too and won’t be able to get it easily as they can when it’s milder. Your crops are there, available, they will want to eat them.

I always share with the creatures who live on the land with me. It’s something we all need to re-learn to do. But I also want the veg to eat for myself, it’s part of my livelihood. Like planting a couple of spare cabbages for the butterflies to lay their eggs on, I always have some spare crops in winter for the birds. And I also feed them seeds and nuts and scraps, make fat balls and fatty crumbs from the last of the bread and the fat from my bacon and sausages. But I also want to eat those veg so I protect them from devastation from the hungry birds. Netting the cabbage family from the pigeons is a good idea. It’s simple enough to do, canes driven into the ground with old plastic bottles on their tops will hold up some simple netting. Tie the netting to the canes with the ties from freezer bags and such – recycling really works.

The polytunnel is another good place and may be enough to keep the frosts off the plants – it’s too cold for that here without heating which we don’t have so our stuff has to come into the scullery, where it doesn’t go below freezing – at least inside. Fleece is good too and can help to make a micro-climate for the plants.

If you got overwintering peas and beans in before the snows came I hope you also covered them with fleece or they won’t have made it. If you didn’t then don’t try until after the snows have gone and the soil warmed a bit.

A good mulching of manure and/or compost covered with black membrane, once you can see the soil again from under the snow, will help to warm the soil earlier than leaving it alone. You’ll be able to sow a month earlier than if you didn’t make the effort so plan for it now. Make sure you have the compost ready, and the manure, and the covering. And plan your sowings so you know which beds need to be got going first. It’s a great way to spend some of the time over the midwinter celebrations, doing some planning for the year to come.

GWM – preparing for Midwinter

Midwinter snow

Snow! Lots of it. The garden and the pond are frozen over and all the soil life is well underground. It’s not sleeping but working like crazy, like a bunch of cave-dwelling gnomes making their jewels and fine thread-work of root connections ready for the spring opening.

However, it does mean I’m not doing a massive amount out there, in fact just harvesting some of the veg like leeks and beetroots is hard because the ground is frozen. It also means that planting the rowan tree as I’d intended is not even a starter, no holes get dug without a machine! And, in any case, the plants wouldn’t survive if I transplanted them now.

That happened for the strawberries, they must stay in pots until the ground warms up again, there was no way I could plant them in the outdoor tubs – couldn’t move the soil and the plants would have died. They’re sitting, a bit forlornly, in the far end of the kitchen as this is warm enough but not overly hot, being north-facing, so I’m hoping they’ll be OK, but I am going to get another dozen as some of them were less than content with being heeled in to the pots. I’ve now transplanted all the survivors into good earth and good pots so they should be OK … but you can NEVER have too many strawberries *g*.

I brought in the last bag of potatoes to the scullery when the snow and frosts began 10 days ago. I grew potatoes in those grow-bag-thingies they’ve been advertising recently. Not a bad crop but not as many as I would have got in the ground which is actually good as I don’t eat that many spuds. We have a nice crop for the Midwinter and Sun-Return feasts though, and on to 12th Night feast. Also, the earth is now in the scullery, thawed out and useable for potting and seed-sowing.

And that’s the next job, sitting like Persephone sorting seeds. Then planning out the sowing. The polytunnel is far too cold to use! All the sowing will have to be indoors, in the propagator and on window ledges and that mean moving Paul off the kitchen table where he’s rebuilding and doing up the household computers (excellent stuff!) but I want to use it for sowing. I foresee a slight “domestic” happening here LOL.

I collect the inners of toilet rolls for sowing, they work very well as individual root-trainer plugs that can be planted directly into the ground because they will rot and disintegrate nicely around the roots without disturbing the young plant. And it’s an excellent way of recycling. I think I may have to hunt around for more containers though. The plastic tub-things you get tomatoes and mushrooms and such from the supermarket are good for this … as long as they don’t have holes in them! We ate all our tomatoes that are not in the freezer a while back so are buying some again now as I have this penchant for salad, always do coming up to Midwinter, not sure why I’m so out of season on this!

I’ll be sitting down with the seed box over the next week, making my sowing plans and getting all the stuff together to begin. I find that once the sun has returned – after the winter solstice standstill from 21-24 Dec – germination is feasible again, provided they also have warmth and moisture. The three necessities for germination … warmth, moisture and light. The seeds really do know that the light is increasing even if it still gets dark at 4pm here. How my friends further north find it with a bare four hours of daylight each day by midwinter must be hard. I love seasons and the change from dark to light to dark and back but I’m not sure I could cope with so very little light each day as they get in Scotland, let alone further north. Likely I live in the right latitude for me *g*. I must go up to Scotland for midsummer one year though, my friends up there have near 24 hours of daylight and can certainly see to read a book at 1am without any artificial light. Yes, worth experiencing.

But to get back to the seeds, germination is feasible after sun-return on 25th Dec, so I shall aim to get going then. It makes the first couple of weeks after sun-return very hectic as we always stir 500 every day for the 12 Nights to 6th Jan. That means 2 hours a day are devoted to stirring for 12 days and, on the last day, we also stir the 3 Kings prep – gold, frankincense and myrrh. More about this next time but, briefly, we do it for the 12 days as 1 day for each of the 12 months of the year. It works very well, helps the soil and roots to begin their growing change after the solstice.

I always feel so excited as we come closer to the solstice. Each day there is less and less light as we approach the shortest day then, on Midwinter’s Eve (20th Dec) we have a big feast to celebrate the beginning of the solstice. It’s also Paul’s birthday – he’s my Midwinter King  – so there’s a double celebration. You really feel the difference as the change begins and there’s the holding-of-breath as the stillness happens, then the surge as the sun appears to move forward again on the 25th Dec. It’s amazing if you can do some of this at one of the old places. I’ve been with friends to Stonehenge for the solstice and sun-return, the surge there is phenomenal, but it’s pretty good here in the garden too. The Earth knows we work with her and enjoys celebrating with us as she cycles back into the light and growth again after the dark-time of working with the soil.

Solstice and Sun-Return blessings to all.

New Strawberry Plants

Strawberry Albion

Gardening with the Moon and Stars still involves all the ordinary work J.

This month I’m catching up with the soft fruit. We needed new strawberry plants so I decided to go for a new breed – Albion ever-bearer – rather than just taking runners from the old plants as I have been doing. The originals came from a friend, and to him from his Dad, and so on down the historical line. They’re good strawberries, and I still have them in a side bed, but they’re the old style that just fruit Albion and have the fruit for 3+ months every year.

The plug plants have just arrived and been stored in a bucket of earth through the cold weather we’ve just had here. It’s still cold but the sun’s come out so I’ll be out there doing over the strawberry beds preparing to plant up the plugs over the next couple of days – making the best of the weather.

As part of this I’ll be giving the beds a dollop of prep 500, horn manure, along with compost, some well-rotted cow manure, rock dust and wood ash. There’s not a root day between now and the weekend but we begin the Northern Planting Time (NPT) today which means the Earth is again drawing energy down into the soil for the roots. Doing 500 in the afternoon, in the NPT even if not a root day means I get 2 out of 3 right and will help the beds and the plants along.

Today is a flower day, as is tomorrow, then it’s leaf until Saturday when It’s fruit from the afternoon on, and through Sunday. I won’t be planting up the strawberries until the weekend as I want to do them on a fruit day to enhance conditions for the new plug plants, give them the best chance of doing well. But I can certainly get their bed ready for them.

As we go into the NPT today I can do the work in the right season. What I’m aiming for here is to get as many things on the side of the new plants as possible so I’m going to

  • Plant them on their own day, fruit day
  • In the afternoon
  • In the Northern Planting Time

o   The last two are both when the Earth is pulling energy down into the soil which will help the roots establish well – vital for you plants being transplanted

I’m very much looking forward to eating the strawberries next year! Planting them now, in November, in the late autumn/early winter means they have six months to establish themselves and get to good fruiting size for next summer. You can plant strawberries, all soft fruit, in the spring but don’t expect much of a harvest from them in their first year if you do, they haven’t had time to get going. Planting now gives a better harvest next summer.

Elen Sentier

behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …

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