There is always the assumption that everything stops for the winter and the garden gets ‘put to bed’ until the spring when there is a real flurry of activity – well, not the case at Sandgate Community Garden in Enbrook Park. We meet on a Wednesday and Saturday morning every week unless it is bucketing down with rain or blowing a real hooli!
It’s the season
We are saving our root vegetables to enjoy them at Christmas, just so that we have something from the garden for the special meal. Winter is the time when vegetable growers will be reaping the rewards of their labours by having stored or somehow processed excess harvest. Fresh stored food would include squashes, carrots, beetroot, onions, potatoes, garlic, apples and nuts. The ability to pickle, dry, cook and freeze anything else will help to add diversity and a more interesting diet if you did not have the luxury of being able to buy anything at any time from a supermarket. At the community garden we never have enough to be able to store, as the food is distributed amongst our many volunteers, so it really is about being seasonal and having something edible throughout the year.
No dig policy
The colder weather has been a long time coming this year in Kent, there are still leaves on the trees even in December. We have been collecting the fallen leaves to fill our mesh leaf compost bin so that they can break down over a year to be spread over the raspberry patch next winter. We make as much compost as we can, with contributions of vegetable peelings and garden waste from locals, and all the weeds and vegetable matter from the garden beds.
However we still have to get hold of more as we have a ‘no dig’ policy, and are working on improving the soil. The main principle of ‘no dig’ is to ‘feed’ the soil by adding fresh compost to the top of each growing area every late autumn/winter. Our paths are also given a new layer of wood chips, to define the walking areas, and again help better the soil beneath which often supports many of the growing plants as their roots find their way out of the vegetable plot and under the paths. This work will occupy us for much of the winter months as long as the ground is not frozen, we will be busy trotting up and down the plot with our wheelbarrows and loads of compost/woodchips – warming work on cold days and most satisfying once complete.
No matter if you cannot make your own compost, as any bagged shop compost should suffice, and if you are lucky enough to gain access to well-rotted farm manure, it will all make a real difference to the health and vitality of the veg plot. No need to feed the plants or add fertilisers during the year, the compost layer will do the trick. Of course it is not just the vegetable patch which benefits from such treatment as all the pots, planters and flower borders will appreciate it too.
Winter is the perfect time to plant shrubs and other hardy plants, as long as the ground is not frozen. It will allow the plants to establish their roots in readiness for the spring. We have nine rhubarb roots and several potted gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes to find space for, and have to wait for some of those parsnips and swedes to be harvested first before we have the space.
Winter is the time when the outlines of the garden are revealed and it is possible to see the bare bones. The soil is laid bare, and the paths uncovered. Now it is possible to take a step back and have a look at the whole structure of the garden and to carry out any major structural changes or improvements, from earthworks, to building, and fence work. Far easier when the plants are slumbering than to battle against them when they are clamouring to take up space. At the very least the shed or in our case, the tool box, could do with a tidy up and any flower pots stacked. We never wash or clean our flower pots as that would be a complete waste of time!
Places to visit this winter
If you have done all your garden tasks, and still looking to get outside, there are plenty of gardens in Kent that are open in the Winter such as Bedgebury Pinetum, Leeds Castle, and many National Trust properties; as well as oodles of walks, organised or casual, short or long, from coastal trails to parks and the Downs – enough places to visit and explore throughout the entire season.
When the days are at their shortest, the snow is on the ground, and it really feels like a chore to get outside, perhaps then the best thing to do is get out the seed catalogues or onto the internet and start ordering the seeds you need for the next year. All those pictures and descriptions will surely be incentive enough to get you thinking about and planning an exciting growing year to come.