Mid January 2015
Keep clearing, mulching, preparing, no sowing yet
Seize any chances
Although January is currently stormy, the winter weather here in Somerset has been more favourable than last year, for clearing and mulching winter work. Its great to seize any moments in midwinter to do these jobs and get ahead, because spring will soon be here, at which time its frustrating if you are catching up with winter’s jobs while wanting to make new sowings, hoe early weeds etc.
I have been spreading green waste (municipal) compost on the flower and tree borders. It is a bit woody and less rich than animal manures, ideal for flowers and shrubs, fruit trees too. I was discussing this compost with a friend who works in the industry, he said they have more than they can sell at the moment, for various reasons. Partly that landfill is now so expensive that more materials are being composted, including a lot of food waste. Partly that large farmers are using less because of growing for biofuel or biodigesters, and in the latter case their maize comes back to the land as compost. Although its making energy it worries me that so much land is being taken out of food production.
Last year I grew some Witllof chicory for forcing in winter. From a sowing in early June, then planted after clearing spring spinach, I harvested some medium size roots, then put them in pots with compost, now in the dark cupboard under my stairs. Also I grew some Chaivari chicory which is supposed to be suitable for eating as a root vegetable. Indeed the roots are somewhat fatter. However they are so bitter that we are struggling to eat them, I even wonder about roasting them for coffee.
When I compare them with parsnips, which are larger, sweeter and quicker to harvest, I come back to that same place: traditional vegetables are traditional for a good reason, they grow well and we like their flavours. Its safer to grow only small amounts of any “new” vegetable! Two I am growing again are oca and yacon.
Winter growth of plants undercover
A friend planted some salads in December, after erecting a new polytunnel and mulching the pasture with compost. He mailed me photos to ask if the brown, outer leaves were a sign of disease or bad compost. But seeing the pictures, I assured him that the plants are healthy, and there are two things we can see here. One is that new plants take a long time to establish in winter, up to two months instead of two weeks in spring, summer and autumn. Hence the advice to sow in September and plant by end October, for undercover salads, and earlier for outdoor growing over winter. A second is about diagnosing problems.
In the photos above you can see healthy growth at the centre of each new plant, this is a good sign, and I reckon his compost is good – the white fungal growth is encouraging. All the browning is on older leaves and that is normal process after transplanting, especially in difficult weather, also these plants had been sitting in their modules for six weeks (!) too long. I like to remove these decaying leaves before they attract slugs.
I was amazed when removing some fabric mulch to find two holes the size of grapefruit, full of slugs of all sizes and colours. I have no idea what made the holes but it made me determined to have as few mulches as possible, close to vegetables. I had left this fabric down in order to reduce work edging, grass & buttercups invading, but feel happier to do that after finding so many molluscs.