In the UK no bird is more associated with wintertime and Christmas than the robin. I have the good fortune to enjoy the company of two of these charming little birds: one in my front garden and one at the allotment.
Here is the allotment robin, who accompanied me yesterday as I gardened on my plot. He sings beautifully, watching my gardening from his vantage point in the hedge behind my allotment, swooping down occasionally to snaffle a grub.
My poor allotment has been a bit neglected recently so I made the most of some sunny hours to work there. I was so eager to set out, having spent much of the previous week working indoors every day, I forgot my hoe!
First of all I “tidied” one of the brassica beds – the most important one for me because it has the Brussels sprouts in, one of my favourite winter veggies. Throwing back the netting (to protect against deer and pigeons), I cleared old leaves and any weeds. This reduces habitat for slugs and other pests, and ensures a good airflow which makes for healthier plants. The netting is pulled back until I go home, to allow the robin and other birds to pop in there and forage for dinner.
Next I tackled the bamboo bean poles, which really should have been cleared weeks ago. I cut the beans at ground level, leaving the roots in the soil to feed the soil life. There may be a little nitrogen too, but as the beans have matured they will have used up most of their nitrogen to produce the beans. It’s rather satisfying sliding the dried out bean coils from the poles and taking them to the compost heap, a tangle of spirals. The poles are neatly stacked next to the compost heaps, ready to be tied up and taken home one day when I have driven to the plot (they are too heavy for me to carry home), and I’ll store them in the shed to dry out before moving.
I’d also not got round to clearing the sweetcorn plants yet (please tell me I am not the only one? I certainly am at my allotment site!) Using a folding saw (this one is an Opinel) to cut the stems at ground level, I then chop them up into pieces about 15cm (6″) before adding to the compost heap. This helps them break down faster.
Weeding at the same time, I’ve started working through the sweetcorn bed. It’s surprising how quickly weeds can sprout in the wintertime, if the weather is fairly mild. I got about half way through before it was time to go home.
The strawberry patch in the rear of the photo belongs to my allotment neighbour John – they are superb strawberries and I am going to take some runners with me to my new house. In the foreground you can see some couch grass sneaking in from the path. There isn’t much and it is really easy to remove with a trowel, even though the soil is heavy clay beneath that mulch.
The sweetcorn bed had squash growing through it, which is how that couch could creep in unobserved during the summer. I put the couch in the compost bin. If you’re concerned that your heap might get over run with couch, then soak in a bucket of water for a couple of weeks first to kill it off.
The morning had been cold with a crisp, sparkling frost so before heading home I checked the green manure, which is a mustard and can be knocked back by frost, but it is looking perky still. This should die back completely by the spring after months of wintry weather, but if not one hoes it off and rakes it up for the compost heap, leaving the roots in the soil. I don’t expect to still be in Bruton then, so I may well hoe it off before leaving my plot in case the new people think they are weeds!
I’m leaving larger borage plants, which can surprisingly overwinter (if it is not too harsh) providing flowers for bees in the late winter and spring. The worst that can happen is they are killed off by very cold weather, and then they obligingly disintegrate into a sludge.
I’m still gardening at my plot even though I am moving because I want to leave the allotment looking nice. I could of course just concentrate on the beds that I am still cropping, but it would make me sad to look at a weedy plot, as well as not being kind to the next owners – and would cause weedy problems for my fellow allotmenteers. This also means that I’ll be getting plenty of fresh air and exercise 🙂
Some of the other plot holders have been busy covering their beds with plastic for the winter. This isn’t something I do (unless in the first year if I am using polythene to kill weeds) because the soil and soil life benefits from the wintry weather, and wild things can use the plot as a larder. But there can be good reasons for choosing to do so, such as not being able to get to the allotment during the winter months, when the polythene will ensure that weeds do not spread.
My favourite of the two robins is the front garden one, because he is so much a part of our lives these days, singing perched on the fig tree beside our front door. Today I was busy in the front garden – clearing even more sweetcorn stalks! And also weeding, strimming, mulching the flower beds with compost made in “daleks” and clearing any sunflower plants which no longer have seeds on. The rest I’ll leave for the birds to enjoy.
I was surprised to find this tiny sunflower growing out of the top of a cut stem, the head having been harvested some time ago to save for seed. You have to admire the determination of this little flower to bloom!
Another surprise this week is the flavour of the strawberries in my polytunnel, which taste lovely. Not as delicious as summer fruits but still sweet and tasty. I had two strawberries to enjoy after finishing my tax returns! The actual deadline is not until the end of January, but I needed it all done so that I can get the mortgage I need to buy my next house. It’s a good feeling to have it all sorted, too!
As part of the clearing and sorting for moving, more of my polytunnel will have to become storage space, so I’m making the most of the salad plants there before they have to go (I have more salad under fleece at the allotment, and plenty of other things to eat so it isn’t too bad). These lovely leaves were sown in September and planted in October. I like to add radicchio leaves from the allotment for colour and a scrumptious bitterness. Yum!