Summer seemed to linger for such a long time… so much so, that it feels as though we have sped through Autumn and now winter is well and truly on its way. The golden, ochre and amber leaves are only just clinging on to the trees at the Smallest Smallholding, having been blasted by Arctic winds, hail storms and even a little snow shower, and the birds are beginning to gather in the shorter daylight hours to make the most of the seed and fat feeders.
Yes, winter is going to come knocking in the next couple of weeks.
Thankfully, I have already managed to get my garlic in the ground – and no pokey in, pull out games with the crows and wood pigeons as yet. Sadly we’ve just finished our crop of garlic from this summer, and I know now that the shop-bought fare just won’t cut it. Our soups and stews won’t be the same until next summer, when this current crop of garlic will be ready to harvest. Ho hum. Better planning for 2014 will hopefully ensure a year-round supply.
But despite the weather turning, there’s still plenty to be done before the deep dark depths of winter sets in here at the Smallest Smallholding.
I’ve been busily tidying the veg plots whenever I have a spare hour or two between finishing my work for the day and the gloom of 4:30pm sets in, making sure my leeks, parsnips, garlic, cabbages and broccoli are weed-free before I mulch around them with compost for the winter. I don’t think we’ll get the polytunnel up any time soon so I think it’ll have to be our number one job come next early spring. Very early spring.
Needless to say, I’ve also been collecting the mountains of fallen leaves for the compost heap. I’ve been alternating dead dry matter – like leaves and long meadow grass – with the ‘green’ stuff to try and keep the compost heap warm over winter. As far as I know, the dead brown matter acts as an insulating layer to help keep the decomposing microbes and minibeasts active. I’ve made leaf mould in the past, but our soil is so well-draining anyway, and the leaf mould doesn’t have too much nutrition so I think it’s better used in the compost heap. I’ve also made sure to leave (ho ho!) plenty of leaves down for nesting birds and mammals. The back of the shed is ankle-high in leaves and I’m not being too tidy about taking them out of the borders – overwintering insects like ladybirds will benefit from the extra protection.
Collecting wood has been high on the agenda, since we’re having to have fires almost every night now. I’m desperately trying to keep the fuel bills down, so gathering in the front room in the evenings with a roaring fire is preferential to having the heating on for hours at a time. Where possible, we’re trying to use up as much of our own wood from old DIY project off-cuts, falling apart bunny runs, tree prunings and more to ‘fund’ our own wood stock, so we’re not spending extra money.
We’ve also still got what feels like acres of nettles to clear (in reality it’s only square metres) in order to make way for some new trees that we’ll hopefully be planting in the next few weeks – paper birches, a couple of apple trees, a spindle, some hazel and maybe a hornbeam hedge to replace the dead privet. We’ve been clearing in stages to give anything residing under the nettles a chance to relocate. I’m tempted to leave a small area because they’re so popular with ladybirds, but the problem with nettles is they’re so hard to contain – any advice?
I would have provided a picture, but we’ve essentially been left with a large mound of nettle, bindweed and dogwood roots, and a mini field of mud that needs re-digging (not very exciting to look at). We’re hoping to plant in the trees, turf the rest and start digging out the wildlife pond…. soon. Soonish. I think by clearing out the nettles we will have recovered at least 25 square metres of usable land.
The truth is, as long as we have our thermals on and can get a spade in the ground, there’s always something to do…