Now, as we head into winter and the garden prepares for a long sleep until next year, there isn’t much more I can do outside. The leafy winter veg and hardy parsnips are still growing and garlics are already in, but most of the beds lie empty and I am working through adding a layer of fresh compost to each one, so that come spring I will be able to plant ready for the new year of growth. With the evenings getting dark before I am home from work, this is a gradual weekend task, and the majority of my work seems to be in planning for next year. I already have plant lists and layout plans so that we can make the most of the small amount of growing space in our back garden, but before doing any of this, I started with a look back over what we’ve done so far.
November is a great time to review the year, and now that we’re coming to the end of our second year of growing in the Kitchen Garden, I can safely say that while we’ve had lots of successes, we’ve had a few disasters too. Before I started planning my plants and layouts for next year, I started with a quick check on what worked this year, and where to make changes. The staples of our garden this year have been the tomatoes, courgettes, carrots, beetroots and chard. Together, they gave us plentiful late summer harvests, and weeks where I didn’t have to buy any veg at all: what a result! The strawberry hanging baskets were also a joy in June, and my carefully planted runners all seem to have taken: they currently live lined up in the back of our north facing garden for maximum sun over the coming short days.
But not everything has been quite so positive. Having lost our entire crop of cauliflowers this year to some very hot weather, I’ve taken these off my list for now. I would love to have another go in future, but while our growing space is at such a premium, I really need to choose reliable crops that will produce well for the amount of space they use.
I’m still undecided about their leafier friends, the cabbages. These also take up a lot of space, and were severely attacked by caterpillars this year, so we’ve not had anything from them yet, but they’re still going, and I’m hoping for a winter crop. I think I will reduce the amount next year, but I’m keen to have another go. I will also start my brussels sprouts earlier next year, and give these some more protection against caterpillars too. They’re rather small at the moment, and Christmas homegrown sprouts is currently an unknown quantity…
The other thing I have noticed this year is not so much what we have done, but what we haven’t. The ultimate goal is vegetable self-sustainability, and having food to pick at all times of the year. There were substantial gaps in our garden produce this year while we waited for veg to grow, and these are what I really want to work on for next year.
The biggest of these gaps was spring into early summer: the traditional hunger gap. Next spring, I am hoping to have a healthy pick of purple sprouting broccoli from our (very large and leafy) plants. I have everything crossed that they are successful! But following these, there won’t be much else to eat. Enter the first of a few new experiments for next year: windowsill salads. Have you seen the growing salads in trays in supermarkets, to use as a cut and eat salad for the windowsill? Well I’ve decided that if ASDA can do it, then so can I, and am currently trialing my own version in an old mushroom punnet, with a winter mix of salad leaves including Komatsuna, Salad Rocket ‘Serrata’, Green Mizuna ‘Marshall’ and Mustard ‘Red Lace’.
I am also going to try earlier planting of carrots and sugarsnap peas, in the hopes of an early summer harvest. My other new additions are all aimed at the other end of the year. Because now most of the veg is harvested and long eaten, I’ve realized how important it is to have food to enjoy over winter, and why traditionally, harvest time is called harvest. It’s all about thinking ahead and getting through to spring. So this year, I’m growing 4 varieties of garlic and extra onions to store over winter. I can then see which variety grows, tastes and keeps the best, and that’s what I’ll grow in future.
I’m also introducing some small squash, to grow vertically up a (hopefully very strong) support to be constructed by Chris, which will also store over winter. And finally, I’m adding leeks to the mix. These winter gems can be used fresh while they last, meaning the onions should last longer into the winter, and possibly even to spring! A girl can dream…
With new plant lists decided, I needed a plan for the kitchen garden that would show exactly what to plant where, and when. The key to managing a small space is organization, and for me, the key to organization is a trusty spreadsheet. So, I have a tabfor early spring, one for late summer going into autumn and winter, and a plant list. These trace the changes in planting as the year progresses, and I can even colour in the blocks as I plant, and record any changes. What more could any gardener want? All that remains to do now, is keep up the maintenance and start researching vegetable varieties to try next year.