Woefully wet winter weather won’t make the work wait

You may think that vegetable gardening is entirely a summer affair and in winter I can sit back with my feet up by the fire waiting for April, but think again!

Luckily many of our veg beds are raised, which helps excess rain drain away quicklySince my last blog about the pumpkin display we have had nothing but rain. In fact, since the start of October, there has been 278mm of rain, that’s 11 inches in 10 weeks!

This has undoubtedly been a hindrance to me in terms of the work that I have to get done at this time of year, the main bulk of which is digging over the beds to a good spade's depth, incorporating plenty of garden compost along the way. Thankfully most of our growing area in the veg plots consists of raised beds, which does help the water to drain away that bit quicker, so I have been able to dig over the areas that have needed it.

I find this is important as it relieves any compaction that has built up in the soil over the summer. Our soil is a very heavy clay and digging in lots of compost helps to improve its structure, loosening and lightening it, making it easier to work. Leaving the soil surface rough and exposed allows the winter frosts to get in amongst all the heavy, sticky clumps, shattering them up to hasten the process even further.

Alliums are already romping away in the raised veg bedsSurprisingly, I have also been able to get some seeds sown and planted out, which will get roots down into the soil now and hopefully give us an earlier crop next spring. This has included broad bean ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ (the best cultivar for overwintering), onion sets ‘Winter Red’ and ‘Radar’ along with garlic ‘Marco’. If really cold frosty weather is forecast I will cover these up with cloches or fleecing to keep the worst of the weather off.

I have also finished harvesting all of the tender plants, including some that I have grown for the first time this year. The yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius), reached a height of 5-6ft (1.5-1.8m) with small, bright orange flowers. Once the cold weather had killed this top growth off it was time to dig up the roots and take a look at the harvest. Huge, long, red swollen tubers came out of the ground which tasted very fresh and crisp, a bit like a water chestnut. I’m told that if you leave them out on a sunny windowsill they become sweeter over time, so we shall see.

Tropaeolum tuberosum var. lineamaculatum 'Ken Aslet'The mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum var. lineamaculatum ‘Ken Aslet’) are also grown for the tuber harvest, the smaller, rounder but fatter roots, which are slightly speckled with black and purple had a much more complex taste, starting off crisp and slightly sweet but then tasting incredibly peppery.

I have been able to propagate from these plants, potting on some of the harvested tubers to grow for next year. As they are not frost hardy I have left them in the glasshouse. Oh, and the squash ‘Black Futsu’ I said I would report back on in the last blog; delicious as well as stunning to look at. Give it go next year.

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