What a lovely October we’ve had and what a start to November, bright blue skies and sunny afternoons, gorgeous leaf colour developing every day. With the change in time and ever reducing light levels winter will soon be upon us. Given how many Christmas displays and markets are popping up all over we have to face the fact that the festive season will soon be upon us and this means most of the work in the garden this year is coming to an end.
There is still lots to keep busy with however, a pair of wellies, warm socks and a few layers should be enough to keep out the cold and the occasional sunny day will keep us smiling as we prepare for the winter. At my local compost heap this morning I was astounded by the huge number and variety of leaves dumped into the massive containers to be taken away to the great big composting heaven in Givrins. Leaves, and a little patience, will give us the greatest free compost imaginable – leaf mould. Rake up the fallen leaves from your garden, or mow them up with the lawn mower if you have masses, pile them into large black plastic sacks, tie the bags and puncture them all over with holes. Hide them behind the garage, the shed or next to the compost heap anywhere they might get a little wet from the rain and just wait. If kept nicely damp in six months you’ll have your own mulch and in a year leaf compost, perfect to return to your own garden.
I spent much of the weekend working in my vegetable garden. I planted a very successful bed of green beans, Selma-Fina, this year, their habit was a little too vigorous for me as the top most pods were well over 3 metres tall. I pulled down the now dried out pods, cutting the beans to the ground and will be busy this week removing the dried beans from the pods to use (rehydrated) in soups, curries and stews for the winter. Next year I need to remember to grow something a little shorter. I cut the beans to the ground but left the roots untouched below, beans (especially broad beans and also peas) bring nitrogen to the soil by leaving the roots in situ until the spring you are improving the soil.
My strawberry bed has been looking wonderful with dark green leaves turning to red. I so admired them last year that by the time I was ready to cut them back the weather had turned and I never go to them. This weekend I took care of that. I removed the left-over straw used to keep the fruit off the soil and trimmed away the old foliage to about 10 cms to allow new leaves to come through, I did this quite successfully with a garden shears. A bed of strawberries should produce well for about four years, beyond that the yield will decrease and it is better to start again in a new location with new plants.
The kale planted earlier in the summer is still going strong and beyond a little caterpillar damage it continues to look good. I’ve force a winter variety, Kale Scarlet, indoors and will get ready to transplant the seedling in a couple more weeks to ensure more leaves throughout the winter – we’ll see how that experiment works. Another winter crop I’m testing out this year is perpetual spinach, I’ve also raised this from seed indoors and will plant them out at the same time as the kale.
Having harvested a great summer crop of garlic and red onions I decided to plant a green manure “engrais vert” instead of leaving that bed fallow for the winter. By doing this I hope to cut down on the weed growth that comes with warm spring days and hopefully improve the compaction that occurs with clay soil and winter rain. I chose a fast growing spinach green manure by Mauser “Engrais vert Croissance rapide (epinard)” broadcast the seeds, raked them over and am now watching as it grows on. Come spring when I’m getting to ready to plant, I’ll cut down the leaves and allow them to wilt on the surface for a few days before turning the soil and incorporating the leaves and roots into the top 25 cms. With a rest period of an additional two weeks I will then be ready to plant in a weed free and enriched soil.
The sound of hedge trimmers and leaf blowers reminds me that hedges should be sharpened up at this time of the year not least due to height restrictions on hedges bordering roads but also to reshape them following their summer growth. Regarding pruning, all dead, diseased and crossing branches on all of your woody stemmed shrubs and roses must be removed. If the thought of taking a secateurs or pruning saw into your hands is terrifying why not join the Swiss Gardening School’s pruning techniques evening master class on Tuesday 10 November and learn what to do when.
As many terrace pots and containers are now filled with bulbs for spring joy don’t forget to raise them off the ground. Any moisture sitting in pots will freeze the pot to the terrace on cold nights possibly damaging the pots, raising the pots ensures good drainage of moisture from the pots and good air flow beneath them. If you haven’t managed to plant your bulbs yet there is still time, a decent if reduced selection remains in all the local garden centres and nurseries. Remember when buying, give the bulbs a good squeeze – they should be firm to the touch, if not don’t part with your money. Make sure your frost sensitive pots are kept in a dry protected space over the winter, an unheated garden shed or garage is ideal. When buying new pots check they are frost resistant first, cold winters here mean that they will shatter in the cold and wet and that is a shame.