December 2015 Newsletter

It’s a quiet time on the vegetable plot but there are still tasks you can be getting on with despite being so close to the winter solstice.

Next year you might want to try your hand at growing tree fruit like apples, pears and plums. So if it’s a clear day and the soil is manageable, it’s an opportune time to plant bare-root trees.

A clear day is perfect for clearing the last of the debris and spent stalks from this year’s crops. If you’re adding to compost piles chop up stalks, stems and roots into small bits which will speed up the decomposing process.

Of course, if it’s wet and windy, (or if the ground is frozen) stay indoors and check out our Christmas catalogue. Choose from a range of products to add to your arsenal of tools or buy as thoughtful gifts for avid growers you know.

 

Jobs to do NOW

 

Prune top fruit like apples and pears 

Now’s an ideal time to prune out some of the branches and smaller twigs on your fruit trees. Arm yourself with loppers, secateurs and a good strong pair of gloves.

Pick a dry day, wrap up warm and give your fruit trees a prune to get a balanced framework of healthy branches and stems that will produce you lots of fruit next year.

Take a look at your tree and see which branches could come out. You’ll want to remove any dead branches, branches that look affected by disease, or branches that are growing at an odd angle, into the tree or crossing other more-outward branches.

You can test to see if a branch is dead by nicking the bark with the blade of your secateurs. If there is green beneath it is still alive. If it is brown it is dead and can be removed.

After you’ve pruned out the main dead or diseased branches take a look at the smaller twigs and fruiting spurs that formed fruit last year. If they are overcrowded you can rub away some of the buds. Keep the buds that see the most light in summer and are more likely to produce sun-ripe fruit and rub out some of the ones that are deep within the framework of branches.      

 

Prevent mice from eating new seeds and pigeons from eating brassicas

At this time of year rodents are hungry, and are very keen on seeds to give them energy. If you have sown broad beans recently it pays to keep them covered or grow them first in individual modules and plant out later when they are at young-plant stage.

Any autumn, Savoy or winter cabbages that are overwintering will be huge temptations to wood pigeons who will strip the succulent leaves in no time. If you have a problem with pigeons keep your cabbages covered with protective netting.

 

Tie in branches and spurs of walled fruit 

If you grow tree or bush fruits up walls, now is a good time to tie in any stems that are growing slightly away from the wall onto the supporting wires.

Prune back long stems that are growing well away to near right-angles to the wall and are too inflexible to tie back.

Check the buds of the fruiting spurs. If the spurs look very congested and overcrowded, rub some of the individual buds out to give some space and air to the remaining ones.

 

Tidy indoors and out 

Now’s the perfect time to clean out the shed ready for next year. Give your tools a good clean down, cleaning out pots used for summer bedding or sorting out the seeds packets into order.

We’ve got some great tidying solutions for your tools- which keeps them clean and dry like our Crest Wall Mounted Tool Rack with handy boot shelf and basket for extra storage.

Now’s a good time to order tools that you’ve noticed you were without this year. Needed a string line to plant out in straight rows? Maybe you need a thermometer in the garden to assess how cold it gets in your garden, so you know whether you need to get fleeces to protect your crops.

At this time of year, frost, snow, and leaves on the ground all at the same time is not uncommon, which can be dangerous if on paths and driveways. Use our Multi-Shifter tool to make light work of clearing snow, leaves and other slippery debris. 

Have a look at our Christmas range for gift ideas or essentials for your own plot.

 

Keep an eye on Brussels sprouts for wind rock 

Windy weather can really do harm to your garden at any time of the year. In December, when wind is all-too-common, it pays to keep an eye on Brussels sprouts. The long stalks can really be affected by wind-rock and are vulnerable to collapsing.

Keep your Brussels sprouts upright and strong throughout the winter by staking them. Tie two knots at the top and bottom of the stalk with string and repeat this if the string weathers or disintegrates through a bad winter. 

 

Check stored vegetables 

If you’re storing your harvests in crates to see you though the winter, it’s worth checking them from time to time to see if they’re still fresh and fit to eat.

Check them first for pest damage. Mice are particularly hungry over the winter months and will make the most of a free lunch if it’s available to them.

Secondly check for diseases and rot. If it’s a particularly damp and mild winter rots will take advantage and spread spores, especially if vegetables are stored close together. Any affected vegetables need to be disposed of straight away to avoid spreading disease to neighbouring crops.  

 

Lift rhubarb crowns to force stems 

Obtain some great-tasting blanched rhubarb stems by lifting crowns of a well-established clump. It’s ideal to do this after a hard frost in December when dormancy is broken. Just plant up the crown you’ve lifted into a container. Exclude light by placing the container in a cellar or equally dark place. Within five weeks you’ll have delicious young, light stems that are particularly flavoursome. 

Alternatively, cover rhubarb plants outside in situ with rhubarb forcing pots.

A popular super-food associated with juicing and blending, and lauded by many, kale is a member of the Brassica family that’s a great crop to grow for its easy-harvest leaves, attractive texture and, of course, its leaves jam-packed with vitamins and age-defying antioxidants.

Want harvests to see you through the winter months? Kale is excellent for providing strong- flavoured leaves from now right until early spring.

You can grow kale in containers if you don’t have a garden or are particularly short of space. If growing in containers, change the soil each year so there’s no danger of soil-borne diseases being built up from year to year.

Kale Cavolo Nero The narrow leaves of this Kale have a heavily-savoyed ‘bubbly' look.

It cooks quickly, keeping a rich dark green colour. The leaves have a wonderful flavour and delicate texture.

Kale Black Magic This new variety of Tuscan kale has been bred for the British climate. With improved cold tolerance and bolt resistance, it is the favourite kale for the garden gourmet!

Kale Redbor A wonderful addition to the winter garden, this beautiful kale has red tinged leaves that turn crimson in cooler weather.

 

Pest of the Month - Mice and rodents 

At this time of year mice and other rodents will be busy finding whatever food sources they can, to see them through the winter.

It therefore pays to make sure that your stored harvests are well-protected. If you have carrots or greens stored in crates, place them high on shelves. Discard any vegetables that have been gnawed by rodents as the scent will attract more vermin and can increase the likelihood of rots.

Similarly keep seed inaccessible. Mice really like seeds, especially sweet peas so lock seeds in an air-tight metal tin if you can, to ensure they are not damaged.

 

December News

Marshalls Christmas Online Catalogue 

Take a browse through our exciting Marshalls Christmas 2015 catalogue. Full of gift ideas for the growing enthusiasts in your life and for yourself. Why not stock up on items for your own vegetable patch or garden?

There are crops you can grow indoors/ like our new mushroom kits, herb collections, salads and chillis as well as useful tools to make next year’s growing season all the more easy and rewarding.