It was a while since we visited the plot the weather conditions and soggy earth not being conducive to plot activity. The only reason that we have been to the plot this month has been to harvest and we have been eating our way through our last big harvest. This, however, had dwindled and so a harvesting session was required to replenish stocks.
It's easy to see why certain vegetables have become traditional components of the Christmas dinner. They are simply the vegetables that are in season at this time of year. I'm curious as to what type of vegetables you guys in the southern hemisphere enjoy when having your Christmas dinner on the beach.
We've been harvesting carrots, parsnips and leeks for a while now. As you can see, the carrots come in all sorts of sizes. We don't thin the seedlings and so it is every carrot for itself. The first seeds to germinate maybe win the battle for space and grow much larger. The twin-rooted carrot at the top in the photo above is so large that it has split.
We picked our first lot of sprouts - a vegetable that divided the nation. We are sprout lovers but even the haters seem to have to include them on their Christmas dinner plate.
We just picked the sprouts from one plant so there's more for later.
A couple more first harvests of the season are a red and a savoy cabbage.
The red cabbage will be braised . It reheats and also freezes very well so it can be enjoyed out of season too.
By the time you are reading this some of the harvest will have been eaten but we should have plenty left if the weather continues to be unfriendly and keep us away from the plot.
Some of you will remember Hoppy out resident disabled male blackbird who became really tame after spending days roosting on one of our bird tables whilst learning to adapt to life with a badly damaged leg. He stayed with us for months after his recovery always being the first to the bird table each morning. In fact he would watch us through various house windows for a sign that table replenishment was imminent and then swoop around the house to wait near to the table.
Sadly one day Hoppy disappeared. We never knew what happened to him and would like to think of him meeting up with a female that looked beyond his infirmity and tempted him away to a happy life elsewhere. In reality it was more likely that Hoppy had suffered a less happy fate but at least we felt we extended his life a little.
Hoppy was the exception as, in out garden, it tends to be the female blackbirds that are the most confident. One female has taken over Hoppy's role. She's quite distinctive with thrush like markings.
She waits as near as she can when Martyn is popping food onto the table. Excuse the quality if the photo below. It was taken well back from the window. She doesn't mind being watched from the window but isn't too keen on having a camera pointed at her.
She's not actually perched on Martyn's head - she isn't that cheeky (yet) - but is just centimetres away from his ear which at times she makes impatient 'chuck chuck' noises into.
As soon as he turns away she darts behind his back and feasts on as many of her favourite suet nibbles as she can before any other birds arrive.
This time of year we spend more time looking through windows at the garden rather than being out there. It was whilst gazing out of the window that Martyn spotted something new and orange standing out from the general drabness.
Maybe I should have written boughing out as the title refers to our magnolia which has had a celebrity spot in the blog this year. This is likely to be it's last star billing as having held on to its leaves for as long as possible it has finally had to accept that it is time to embrace the big sleep that is winter.
The fairly still autumn has meant that the leaves have not suddenly been whipped from the branches. The leaves have gradually changed colour and fallen leaving only a handful of determined individuals clinging on.
In many ways it has been a tale of two halves as the side of the tree that faces into the direction of prevailing winds lost its leaves sooner than the sheltered side. The leaves may have fallen but the branches are not completely bare as next year's flower buds have appeared and are patiently waiting their trigger to start into growth. They are likely to need those furry jackets over the next few months.
The fallen leaves carpet the area beneath the tree and will decompose to add nourishment to the soil and foraging for the birds. When birds visit the feeders they now have less cover so we can observe them better but then again so can any passing sparrowhawk. Fortunately nearby evergreen shrubs offer some cover from overhead predators and the worst of the weather.
Soon the new stars of this area will be the early spring flowers. The snowdrops are already pushing their noses up through the ground and I have cut back the old hellebore leaves so we can better appreciate the flowers when they show their faces. I planted some new hellebores at the beginning of the year to extend the colour palette. These had spent some time potted on in the cold frame before planting so I wonder whether they will flower this year?
In a post back in November I wrote my first "Owt for nowt" post which described how easy it was to grow lots of new lavender plants from cuttings. This post just shows that you can find cutting material from an unexpected source.
Although we do grow lots of flowers for cutting we can't produce a supply of cut flowers throughout the winter months and so I do at times have to resort to buying in. One type of flower that I often buy is dianthus and if I am lucky this also provides me with an unexpected bonus.
Sometimes there are offshoots, such as the ones shown below, lower down the stem.
If you are lucky you can gathering plenty of cutting material from one bunch of flowers. The side shoots can be pulled away from the main stem quite easily. The photo below shows the number of cuttings gathered from a recent bunch of flowers.
Each of the cutting material was trimmed to just below a leaf node and leaves were carefully (the stem will snap easily at a leaf node) pulled off to leave a bare section of stem.
Each prepared cutting was inserted around the edge of a small plant pot containing a mix of compost and vermiculite.
Last year cuttings taken in this way produced small plants that I planted on the plot and hope will bulk up a little next year if they make it through winter.
We made the decision not to grow any dahlias this year and then we went to the garden centre and saw some lovely single varieties that we liked and changed our minds. For some reason we have both become drawn to single flowers. Maybe the bees have been indulging in a bit of telepathy as they seem to prefer them too.
We came away from the garden centre with a selection of tubers which we potted up to start then into growth.
We had started a new flower border in the plot in the place previously occupied by dead raspberries. Earlier in the season campanulas and primrose provided some subtle colour.
The gaps in between the existing plants were filled with the dahlias which were anything but subtle.
The blackened tops were cut back and the tubers labelled with a number in an attempt to identify them next spring.
I must say the plants had produced impressive tubers. According to James Wong, these are edible but I think I'll pass on that meal.
As much soil as possible was rubbed off the tubers which were them placed stems pointing down in a tray in the greenhouse to dry off. Before we start to get really keen frost these will be given additional protection in a box lightly covered with compost and fleece or bubblewrap. The fruit trees and shrubs planted in pots will have to tough it out outside but their roots have been given a bubblewrap overcoat as a bit if extra protection.
Let's hope winter isn't too unkind maybe just harsh enough to kill off some of our garden pests.