December digging

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The handle to our greenhouse door fell off last week. The constant rain seems to have rusted it away, and the handle sheared off from its base. It took a lot of jiggery-pokery to work out how to open the door without said-handle. Learning: ornate black metal handles bad. Practical aluminium door handles much better, and surprisingly easy to put on.

Inside the greenhouse, I have found it a particularly daunting autumn for mould-growing. Mould grows with cold, wet conditions and leads to damping off, especially with seedlings and cuttings I am trying to root. A heat mat usually reduces this threat. But with continuing cold weather, I am also trying to reduce watering and not wet the plant’s leaves, which seems to help. I spend time every few days removing any mould I find on soil, as well as dead and dying leaves. I had rooted basil in the greenhouse, but I have now moved these to our kitchen window sill, with a plastic bag around them to act as a mini-greenhouse.

Outside in the garden, the miscanthus still looks beautiful in the evening sunlight. But working outside means cold winds, and damp, damp air. It’s putting pay to my efforts to get the final, late-bargain bulbs into the ground. Soon I will give up completely and plant them into pots. The allotment planting of garlic and onion has also eluded us. I shall be trying the trick of planting in single-compartment seed trays instead. To save on heating, our downstairs bathroom is rather chilly right now. Perfect for getting my sweet peas and various onions and garlic sets to start rooting. Open garages are also great for our pots of bulbs, at least for the next few weeks. The wind and wet has toppled many of our remaining grasses and perennials in the garden. We have lots of bumble bees in warm weather, so I am loathe to clear away the broken grass stems and piles of leaves, just in case they are nest-sites for hibernating bees.

With leaves gone from trees and hedgerow, our bird nest-boxes are re-emerging into sight. We are taking them down for cleaning out old nests in preparation for the spring. Last year we waited until February to do this, and discovered some were already being inspected by birds, so we thought December might be a better month to do this chore.

Finally, December is my month to organise seed packs. What seeds we have left over, what seeds are still fresh enough to germinate. What varieties of veg and flower are not worth growing again (for example, aubergines. I have failed and failed and failed. If you know a variety that actually does set fruit and grows in our climate, please share). What varieties seemed to survive our terrible dry summer And, what new varieties of our favourite flower and veg are being recommended on various gardening websites.

I bought a variety of small pumpkin and gourds from greengrocers for decoration in October. Now, I am scooping out the seeds and then baking them with a bit of oil and herbs and testing their flavour. The results are surprising. Ones I assumed would have good taste are not worth growing. But a couple of really ornate / colourful shapes are really nutty / sweet flavoured and lovely to eat. I am saving those seed to grow next year. “Round stripey” is my current top favourite, and small enough that it is just right for feeding two of us, cut up into cubes and used in a stir fry.

Image Credits: Abigail Cooper-Hansen .

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