December dawns

Early on the first day of the last month of 2020, I walked to my allotment and was treated to this spectacular sunrise. What a beautiful start to a new month. The day was cold and clear and blue and sunny until around 3:30pm, a real treat.

Sunrise with manure pile in the foreground

My allotment neighbours – Adam and Kimberley – have had their annual delivery of George’s Marvellous Manure (from a local farmer), well composted manure not fresh, ready to spread on their plot this winter. It will weather and break down into a beautiful tilth ready for sowing and planting in the spring. Compost does not leach nutrients and this mulch will feed the soil life and plants for the whole growing year.

Many of the diggers at this allotment site have covered their plots with plastic for the winter. This makes sense if you are unable to get to the plot for some time to keep on top of winter weeds with a hoe: then you’ll have a weed free plot to welcome you in the spring. But if you can get to your plot in the winter it is much better for the soil, soil life and wild things if you don’t cover with plastic. Obviously it is better for the planet too, but I know that most of the gardeners here are re-using the plastic year on year.

It is also better for you! Spending time outdoors, if you can, during the winter months boosts the immune system and helps with mental health. Half an hour at the plot hoeing, planning, harvesting and observing nature is hugely beneficial for both physical and mental well being. It’s often surprising how much lighter and brighter even the greyest day is, once you get outside. Sometimes I just walk up there to stretch my legs, as I did this morning.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, it is really strange not mulching, or planting garlic and broadbeans. But there’s loads still to do, especially harvesting delicious vegetables.

The parsnips were sown into composted manure on top of heavy clay. Often people say that you mustn’t use manures for root crops because they will fork, but this is only if you are digging the composted manure in – as a surface mulch it is fine to sow and grow root crops. I’ve been doing it here for 12 years.

The parsnips were photographed on my neighbour’s path which I usually strim for them, but the weather has been so soggy that the opportunity has not yet arisen. It looks dry for much of the week so hopefully that will happen. I have osteoarthritis and can no longer scythe. (Now that I am moving, I am leaving my lovely scythe with Charles where it will be used often.)

My top tip is
+ always remember to put your knife in your pocket when going to harvest +
I forgot….

In my home garden, I’ve started propagating plants for the move. One of the easiest is from perennial kale.

This is Taunton Deane, an old Somerset variety. The plant is the child of my first perennial kale, which I got about 10 years ago. To make new plants, I am popping shoots into a jug of water and, when roots develop, I’ll pot them on ready to transplant in my new home. I’m leaving this big kale for the new owners of my house, but think I’ll prune it back a bit because it has become something of a triffid.

(I am sorry but I don’t sell shoots of perennial kale. Try Pennard Plants )

Today I tidied two veg beds in the back garden, removing old leaves and clearing weeds which had made the most of the wet weather and started a take over bid! I’ve removed the netting and hoops – these are in the polytunnel drying, ready for moving. I can’t really put soggy hoops and netting in a removal van with all of our things.

I would usually underplant the flower sprouts (also known as Kalettes) to make the most of the space, but this year (as I am moving) I’m leaving it clear so I can hoe. I was delighted to find these fungi under the turnips, as sign of happy soil life.

Most of the weeds were actually the wild flowers I grow which self seed freely. I’ve been collecting wild flower seeds to move with me too. Today it was Figwort, the seeds pods have finally dried, which is a wonderful source of forage for wasps and other flying insects.

I leave seed heads for as long as possible for the wild things, including these sunflowers and globe artichokes. It is nice to watch the birds feeding through the window as I sit at my desk. In my front garden I grow teasles for the finches – we can watch them feed from our kitchen table. I must remember to gather some teasle seed for my new home.

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I’ve also been preserving – making chutneys and jellies and other delights using fresh ingredients and also fruit and veg from the freezer. Before I move I’ll need to have completely emptied my chest freezer, so all of those summer frozen harvests will be preserved in jars, ready to bring a taste of Somerset to my new home.

This is redcurrant jelly. It will store in regular screw top jars, but I use my Weck jars, which means that after the jelly has been poured into the jars and the lids attached, I need to “can” them in my water bath canner. This creates a secure seal for those rubber seals. Canning methods vary from place to place, so if you fancy giving it a go use a guide suitable for your area. Mine is an electric canner: I pop everything in and set the timer (easy life!)

I’m doing some preserving and packing some things every day, in between working on the dreaded Tax Returns…… I want these accounts all finished by the end of Friday, so I can focus on everything else with a clear mind. Weirdly I do rather like all of the adding up, and it helps to see exactly how my work has gone for that year, but does take rather a long time. There is a blissful sense of relief when the online forms are all filled in and tax and National Insurance paid up. So if you’re wondering why I’m not on social media much this week, it’s because I am surrounded by paperwork. When I have finally finished I can eat this ripe strawberry that is in my polytunnel!

Some good news! My blog was a finalist in the Garden Media Guilds Blog or Vlog of the Year! I am so pleased.

And even more good news …. I have have made an offer on a house and it has been accepted, so all being well I’ll be moving there next year (no idea when yet – sometime in late winter I expect). Cue happy dancing 🙂 It is lovely, with a good sized garden. I have viewed all kinds of properties (perfectly legal under covid lockdown regs, I checked*) and realised that much as I dream of several acres, in reality that’s too much for me with everything else that I do. This garden is bigger than mine but not enormous – and the house is really beautiful with stunning views.

The property is in a village near Lampeter in Ceredigion, Wales. A big move. I am so excited and my three children are looking forward to it too. So please keep your fingers crossed for me that the house sales go well. I haven’t moved for almost 20 years so it is rather a big deal.

Fortunately book sales at Homeacres are booming so Charles is keeping me well supplied with cardboard boxes. And thank you to everyone who bought books from my website during November – that has really helped with my “moving house budget”.

(* I live in a very very small rural town with a really low covid rate – although we are now weirdly in the same tier as some major cities which is quite frankly bonkers….. It would have been legal, but I wouldn’t have viewed houses if I was living in an area with a high infection rate. I carry hand sanitiser in my car and used it before every viewing, and of course wore a mask too).

Finally – more happy news. I am writing a new series of features for Kitchen Garden Magazine. This is the third year that I have written monthly articles for this wonderful magazine. 2021’s will be all about gardening on a budget, based on my many years of growing to feed my family on a very low income. There I am, mentioned on the cover – and Charles is on the cover too.

 

 

30 thoughts on “December dawns”

  1. Oh good luck with your move to Wales, how exciting! We moved to South Wales from Cumbria in 2011. Thank you for your beautiful photos, look forward to many more from your new home. All the best x

  2. Christine Griffiths

    Really interesting and such lovely news that you have found your new home. Perennial kale seed bought thank you for the link!
    Good luck with your move! X

  3. Good luck with your house move Steph, it’s a lovely part of the world! I must admit, although I don’t use black plastic, after mulching my empty beds at the allotment I have had to cover them with debris netting weighed down with bricks. Otherwise they would just become an enormous cat toilet!

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      That sounds like a useful tip for people with enthusiastic cat neighbours!

      Thanks Ceri – I am so looking forward to it

  4. Really enjoyed this blog post, Steph and lovely to hear how you are preparing for your move. My friend is growing Tauton Deane Kale this/next year for the first time. Welcome to Wales, soon. We live 18 miles from Lampeter having moved to lovely mid Wales in 2015. You and Huw Richards will be gardening neighbours so really hope you get to do some projects together, looking forward to that! I hope you and yours will be happy in your new home.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Thank you Louise – we’ll be almost neighbours! Yes, I’ve known Huw for a few years now – he was one of the people who knew I was moving to Wales before it became public knowledge 🙂

  5. Hope your move goes smoothly Steph. We moved from Oxfordshire to a village 10 miles from Lampeter in March 2019 and enjoying living here. My new no dig veg bed is thriving even now in the winter months.

  6. Mary Ann Anthony

    Hurrah, my guess was right, Wales! Congratulations on finding a lovely new home. Good luck on the move. Enjoyed this post especially the photos of canning, and the cover photo is outstanding.

      1. Ha ha! I thought it would be Wales! Great choice, you will find lots of ‘fellow travellers’ there, I’m sure. The best of luck with the move 😁

  7. I love reading about how you are sorting the garden prior to moving, I have wondered how I would tackle it.
    Well done for getting your tax done, I did mine last week, it’s such a relief when it is done.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      It is such a relief. I’ve been letting it “sit” for a couple of days in case I suddenly remember something that it missing (!) but should have it all filed tomorrow.

  8. Congratulations on finding your new home … sounds beautiful- views … sigh 🤗! More beautiful sun rises/sets: Look forward to those 😎 Stay well for your new year which sounds so positive and very busy! Happy days ahead 🤞

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