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Winter greens and bonfires

Posted by Guy Barter on 23 Jan 2008 at 08:27 PM

I have taken a break from the allotment for a few weeks, except for harvesting. Winter veg are still in full swing, with very satisfactory Brussels sprouts and Savoy cabbages.

Her loveliness has invented some 'innovative' recipes to combine her two favourite foods (after chocolate) – pasta and Brussels sprouts. I have to admit that they are surprisingly tasty although not perhaps fit for entertaining company.

The real stars have been leeks and winter cabbage 'Wintessa'. Wintessa has not always been a favourite of mine being unpredictable, but this year it has really grown well and is far more weather resistant than savoy 'Wirosa'. Therefore my seed orders include 'Wintessa'. But 'Wirosa' is out for 2008 (in any case seed is hard to come by) in favour of 'Medee'; reputed to be a similar type. My January King cabbages have been unsatisfactory in recent years, so they have been dropped in favour of savoys, but 'Deadon' in the current RHS trial at Wisley has tempted me to try again in 2008 – it has superb vigour, leaf colour and resists weather well.

Of the leeks, 'Apollo' is looking good now, and 'Oarsman' has yielded enormously as an early leek, with few bolters – both these F1 hybrids are in for 2008. 'Toledo', planted as an emergency onion substitute in July after onions were badly hit by downy mildew, is swelling nicely ready for April.

Root vegetables are plentiful, but new leaves are forming on the carrots and parsnips so they won't remain in good condition for much longer. Swedes and celeriac are both plentiful and I am starting to use salsify and Jerusalem artichokes.

On the plot, autumn planted onion sets are about 20cm tall, but a bit spindly. Nitrogen-rich fertiliser will be applied soon to suppress flowering. Garlic is shooting and beans are about 12cm tall. Gaps in the beans have been filled with new seeds, a few shallots have been slipped in to gap up the onions, and I have some reserve onion plants to gap up further later on.

Shallots are only fair – foxes pulling them up have done them some harm.

Peas are growing fast beneath fleece where the deer and pigeons cannot get at them.

The third raised bed has been rebuilt and the soil replaced, fortified with ample manure, finishing my raised bed rebuilding programme for a few years.

A thick coating of weeds covers much of the plot – good; this is my free over-wintered green manure. It is showing flowers now, so as soon as the manure heap is spread the black polythene sheets covering the manure will go onto the weedy ground to suppress them until the rotovator can get to work next month. Moving wet, cold, dirty, manure encrusted polythene sheets in winter is truly the worst job of the year, but with Wellingtons, boiler suit and gloves I will get through it.

I keep hoping for a freeze to firm up the ground to enable easy barrowing of the last third of the manure, but so far it has been rain and rain in 2008. Lower parts of the plot have flooded and although other parts of my sandy soil are workable, I have left these to concentrate on tasks more suited to the weather.

A twelve-year old raspberry bed has been grubbed and burnt. Where the stools grew the soil is infested with bindweed. These strips have been covered with opaque landscape fabric to kill the weeds over the summer. The inter-row strips have long been covered with landscape fabric and are more or less weedfree. These will be planted with pumpkins in early summer after preliminary weed eradication measures.

Bonfires have also consumed all remaining trash, including tree branches growing over the fence from the adjacent golf course. Gradually the plot is recovering from its winter drearyness and becoming inspiring again.