November goals…

Carrying on from the start I’d made in September, I set myself the goal that by the end of November I would have finished tidying up the original plot and would have cleared and prepped the new plot ready for winter. I thought it was pretty much do-able as I’d already (with help) cleared away the shed and had created the compost area, all I needed to do now was clear the weeds, cover the ground with cardboard and mulch with compost; and because the ground was so weed-ridden I would cover the lot with weed membrane thereby excluding as much light as possible so the weeds lose some of their strength come the spring. I also read up about the grape vine and some of my fellow allotment holders told me that you basically can’t kill it, cut it back and it will thrive, so that was another job on the list.

Making plans are all well and good, but none of this took the weather into account. No one can accuse me of being a ‘fair-weather’ gardener, but we’ve had some really wet days which turned into weeks here in South Wales that made it impossible to get anything meaningful done. That said, I persevered and made up for lost time when I did get there, putting in a six-hour shift one day… couldn’t move for a couple of days afterwards, mind you, but it was very satisfying looking back at what I’d achieved.

My original goal was to completely prep the whole of the second plot, I had to revise that slightly as I couldn’t dispose of the amount of weeds that I had cleared, but that was OK. I will just have to accept that it will take a bit longer to get the whole plot to exactly how I imagined it… Rome not being built quickly enough and all that…

This plot may not look much at the moment, but already it’s bringing me joy (and a little apprehension, if I’m honest). The plot is the first one you see as you come through the gates, thereby making it a high profile plot and without exception every plot-holder I’ve seen while I’ve been working there has stopped to talk and ask about it. One gentleman told me that long before the allotments, the ground made up part of a garden belonging to a cottage nearby and they used to dump the soot from their fires there and soot is very good for the soil. Because it is dark, this helps the absorption of heat which helps with early crops and in the spring the bacteria changes it into nitrates which feeds the plants. This was a long time ago, but several of the plot-holders have commented that the soil on this particular plot is very good which, added to the high profile, piles on the pressure to create a plot that not only looks good but produces high quality produce… we’ll see. I love it that people stop and chat though, it may be high profile but its also a very social plot and people obviously like to see the ground cared for. It somehow hurts when plots are grown over and left, it’s a quirk of having a plot perhaps?

Elsewhere on the plot I have been holding onto the remaining produce in the hope that we can have them for Christmas dinner this year.

We’ve had some of the swede already so have left these last few to put on some timber, the parsnips should be a good size (please ignore the nibbled leaves) and the leeks are doing really well. The carrots were sown very late in the hope they would mature in time – I’m not convinced so will play safe and buy some in case, but you never know.

Also the over-wintering seems to be going well. Clockwise from the top: onions, pink garlic, elephant garlic. The magpies had a good try at pulling the onions out but I pushed them back in (the onions not the magpies) and they seem to be OK and appear to be surviving the few frosts we’ve had so far, as have the broad beans, well, what’s left of them after something has had a good go at pulling them out of the ground.

An ‘Aquadulce’ broad bean surviving the frost and the birds

If you follow my Instagram account, you’ll know that dahlias have become my new love and this year I had planted a few tubers which gave enormous pleasure. But what to do with them now? Our climate here in South Wales is mild enough that they would have coped with being left in the ground and covered with a thick layer of mulch to protect them from any frosts, but now with plot number two to consider and design, I decided to lift them and re-position them in the spring.

There are many, way more experienced gardeners out there who have all posted their ideas and advice online of how to care for dahlias, but I thought I’d give it a go myself. I figured if I record what and how I’ve done it, I can post the results, good or bad.

Lifting and dealing with Dahlias

  1. Once the plant has stopped flowering and preferably before, but as soon as its been hit by the first frost, cut the plants down to almost ground level and compost the stems and leaves.
  2. Carefully lift them from the ground using a fork. Try not to go in too close to the roots as you might cause damage to the tubers. Check they are all intact.
  3. Clear off the soil. There is differing advice out there for this but I went for clearing the soil completely and then rinsing them under the tap, to completely clean them just in case there were any bacteria that could harm them while dormant.
  4. Naked tubers are quite alien looking and you need to perform some surgery to pretty them up… only kidding, but they do need some surgery to cut off roots that they don’t need next year, so all the spindly little roots need to be cut and easily come away.
  5. You also need to remove the ‘rats tail’ roots (ugh, rats again) for the same reason.
  6. Look at the size of the tubers as you may be able to split them.
  7. Two for the price of one – winner!
  8. Dry the tubers out until they are completely dry
  9. Pot them up in pots big enough to easily take the whole tuber. These are 3L pots and some of the smaller tubers were put in together. They are in a mix of compost and vermiculite which will help aerate the pots. These pots need a cool dark place for the winter and they will get planted again in the spring once the risk of frosts have gone.

Just think of dahlias as the tortoises of the plant world, that need help with their hibernation!

Away from the plot

I promised myself last year that I would have a go at overwintering some sweet peas and see if that makes a difference so at home I’ve had a go

I even remembered to start ‘pinching them out’, above their first set of proper leaves – this helps them create side shoots so you get more flowers. They are safely tucked away now in the cold frame for the winter. All this is the first time for me, so we will see if this all pays off.

I also blanched and froze the Brussels sprouts harvested a few weeks ago.

…and as we’re heading into December I couldn’t resist this advent calendar…

I’ll post again at the end of December, by which time Christmas will have been and gone, so ahead of that I hope, given all the restrictions, you are all able to have the best Christmas you can and Christmas dinner, for those of you who will be cooking it, is as stress-free as possible.

Cheers,

Ruth

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