Well we’ve been on a roller coaster with the weather over the past few weeks. The Indian summer lasted beautifully through the end of September and with the arrival of October the temperatures dropped and the bise wind rose. The tomatoes hung on to the bitter end but it is all over, the green ones are now in the kitchen in the hope that they may turn red but I predict an afternoon of green chutney making in my future.
This time of year is always bittersweet for the gardener, the glory of the summer garden has come to an end, the perennials have all gone to seed and while the seed-heads look wonderful the colour is slowly disappearing before us. Dahlias continue to perform and until we have consecutive nights of freezing temperatures they will continue to shine. It is a time to think about the future of course because this is the perfect time to add plants to the garden, trees, shrubs, hedges and perennials can all be planted until the freezing temperatures arrive. Have you got plans for trees, adding perennials? Take advantage of dry days to get out and make plans and plant them up, it is never nice to garden in the rain.
I’ve been busy this week, harvesting all the beans, I’ll be drying them out, shelling and storing them for use in soups and stews over the winter. I aways cut the plants to the ground, throwing them onto the compost, and leave the roots alone until the spring, this allows the nitrogen nodules along the fine roots of the beans plants to augment the nitrogen in the soil. I then cover the bed with about a 10 cms layer of mulch and leave that to work its way into the soil over the winter. Home made compost makes for a great mulch but it should be well broken down and at least a year old. If you don’t have any ready to go there are a number of places locally where you can buy it by the “big-bag” or have it delivered. I’ve used BGS Compost SA in Givrins, although closed on Saturdays it opens from 07:00 Monday to Friday.
Staying in the vegetable garden I’ll be planting up some shallots this weekend. I know they are inexpensive to buy at the supermarket but for some reason I never seem to have any to hand when I need them. Its a little like red onions, you know you can get them but you never have them in the kitchen when you need them. After the success of the red onions two seasons ago next year we will have home grown shallots. I’ll be planting the sets 25cms apart in rows of 40cms apart, leaving the tips above the soil level. Onions, garlic and shallots do very well here, they can cope with freezing temperatures and snow over the winter and grow on beautifully in the spring, expect to harvest when the leaves turn yellow in July.
If you are lucky enough to have a dedicated strawberry bed now is the time to prepare it for the winter. Rake away any old straw that you had used to lay the fruit on earlier in the summer. Cut back each of the plants; new leaf growth may already begin if mild temperatures continue. Early summer fruiting raspberries should also be dealt with now. Next years fruit will appear on this years new canes. These canes will have a fresh green look to them, old canes, which bore fruit this year, will look much darker. Only the dark canes should be cut to the ground, the new canes should be secured to supports ready for fruiting next year. Autumn or late fruiting raspberries can be cut to the ground now, fruit is produced on new canes which will start growing in the spring. Mulching now will help reduce weed growth around the base of the canes facilitating easier weeding come spring.
Breezy days bring down a lot of leaves. If you haven’t made leaf mould before this is the season. Rake up the leaves and put them into large black plastic bags, secure them tightly and punch holes in the bags. The bags should be left where they will be rained upon, keep them until this time next year and hey presto you will have your own leaf mould. This can be added to beds as a mulch, keeping the weeds down.
Although the days can be dark and damp at this time of year I do love that I spend a lot of time thinking about the spring. I plant up bulbs, I plan the colour combinations in my pots and I discover new varieties I haven’t tried before. Successful combinations are repeated, disappointments discarded but noted so as not to be repeated in the future. The bulbs in the photo above are Narcissus Grp. Trumpet Dutch Master, they’ll flower from March and are perfect for cutting and bringing in, they also multiply well from year to year. Spring flowering bulbs are everywhere at the moment, if you haven’t already bought them now is the time to do it, available at all the big DIY stores and local garden centres, even the flower shops at the supermarket have a selection. There is nothing better than being surprised by tiny yellow crocus flowers on a dull February morning. Can’t beat that cheerful golden joy. Now with the sun coming out it is time for me to get outside, enjoy!