Today is hot. There is a gentle breeze coming off the sea, but in the microclimate of my garden, the wind speed monitor is turning lazily without a care in the world. The hot sun beats down on the black sand paths, bouncing the heat from the dark surface, making it impossible to walk across barefoot. The golden brown of the spent grasses on the hillsides and the intense blue of the sky all work together to make the garden seem like a scorching hot zone, where gardening is, for the moment, undesirable. The best times to make the most of the garden are first thing in the morning and in the late afternoon and early evening.
Fortunately, there isn’t much to be done in the garden – well nothing of great urgency. The weeds are under control with my weekly routine of staying on top of the little ones. The watering, thanks to the swamp soil I bought with me only needs to be done every 3 – 4 days and can go even longer at a push. The harvest is great, although due to everything going in later than I would have liked isn’t really at that glut status yet, and I suspect the best I will end up with will be in the realms of ‘manageable’. I have great hopes for next season when everything will go into the garden in a timely fashion.
But what I am beginning to see, while I certainly don’t feel it, is the beginning of the end of summer. For example, I harvested my sweetcorn the other day and vacuum sealed it and popped it into the freezer to bring sunshine to a winter day. Sweetcorn is always such a dramatic crop to grow and at its height, it dominates the landscape of the garden as it towers above everything else. However, once the ears are plucked, there is no reason to leave it there and so it makes sense to chop it down. The result is the garden no longer looks the same. There is something missing. Like when someone you’ve always known to wear a moustache suddenly shaves it off. It doesn’t look or feel right.
There are still plenty of crops in the garden and many will be there for sometime to come, like the pumpkins who will be there until the bitter end, as their leaves dry up and wither away. The peppers should keep going until the frost takes them out, and to be honest they are really only just getting started now. Having said that, we don’t get frosts here. I wonder if that means they’ll just keep going. I’m looking forward to testing this one out!
But slowly and surely the crops within the garden will be either eaten and enjoyed like the brassicas and the beetroot or give up the will to live after producing a bountiful harvest for months on end like the cucumbers and zucchini. This inevitable end will not only mark the passing of the season, but create empty beds. But the thing is nature abhors bare soil and will seek to colonise it immediately and the golden seed heads from the grasses on the hill have probably be eyeing up my fertile soil all summer long. I need to do something to protect my beds over the winter.
The first thing I can do is grow more crops. The winter crops aren’t half as exciting or as numerous as the summer selection, however I have the space and can ensure my winter diet need not be stodgy. I need to make a plan. I need to check the seeds I have and see if there are other exciting-ish crops that can fill my beds and make my winter gardening experience delightful.
Realistically it won’t be possible to fill all the beds. There is only so much cabbage one can force ones family to eat. And then there are other things to consider, will a bed filled with winter cabbage, mostly uneaten… run into congestion problems in the spring. Will my poor family be eating cabbage in every meal so their space can be cleared in time to plant the new season peas? Or could I get away with putting a long season crop in a bed destined to be occupied by the peppers that can be planted up to two months later than the peas? This all needs to be considered.
Of the remaining beds, the decision needs to be made – what to do with them. Growing a cover crop is a great way to keep the beds weed free, give winter interest and by digging them in 6 – 8 weeks before needed, the soil can be enriched and ready for the new season. But which bed suits which cover crop? It doesn’t make sense to follow brassicas with mustard, although a popular cover crop, as it can contribute to long term risk of club root disease as it is also a brassica. Not just any old cover crop will do. A legume crop will be ideal for replacing all the goodness the sweetcorn took from the soil creating those tall plants. This needs a bit of thought.
So, while I’m holed up inside on a hot and sunny day, waiting for the temperatures to drop, it makes perfect sense to decide what I’m doing next.
Come again soon – this summer isn’t going to last forever and I have plans to make.
Sarah the Gardener : o)