Although there are always plenty of crucial jobs to be done at almost any time of the year at this season some become more urgent because of the imminence of hard frosts. If we leave these important winter preparations undone a tad too long all can be lost. And because it is some years since most of the UK had a long hard winter these tasks may be easy to overlook until it is too late.
Without doubt one of the most important jobs for any gardener is the suppression of weeds. They will, given half a chance, destroy our desired plants; out-competing them for light, space and nutrients. However they are also an inextricable part of our local ecology and we may achieve better overall results by aiming at their rigorous control rather than their total elimination. (To be fair though there are some such as bindweed and Equisetum which can never be tolerated at all or they will quickly take over entirely.)
This is the month when everything in the garden grows like topsy. The days are long, the soil warmed up, and fertility and winter’s rain are not yet depleted. But not just the crops grow, the weeds also. And it is now they are at their most competitive and need the most effective control. Now I spurn chemicals and even if I didn’t there would be little that could be used safely and easily amongst the mixed crops in the vegetable plot. The traditional option of hoeing is the first recourse but there other possibilities.
We all do it and indeed much of our total gardening time and effort is devoted to it yet it remains one of the least attended to areas of horticulture. Few books, or courses, ever devote much space to weed control but good weed control is essential for all branches of gardening and especially in the kitchen garden where weed competition is fatal to many crops.
Although it is quite possible to garden successfully in many ways without hardly ever doing any watering it is also one of the most productive and effective labours we can undertake if we wish to improve most of our kitchen garden crops. Indeed I suspect many of us do not realise just what good results can be obtained by assiduous watering compared to many other gardening chores we consider equally beneficial.
In Kitchen Garden Feb 05 I discussed watering and ventilation under cover where we have almost complete control and in May 02 I examined various ways of applying water. Now I'm turning my attention to the quality of the water. In the open ground it is possible to get away with rarely if ever watering anything. I have successfully sown, transplanted and grown many crops in my dry East Anglian soils without any additional water other than our sparse rainfall. Obviously without added water the timing of such operations is crucial and yields suffer.
Our watering makes all the difference to most of our crops, and with some much more than others. Such as over-wintered brassicas and early sown carrots may crop well without extra water, even in a drought year, as their roots delve deeper following winter water down as it falls. Well established trees and soft fruits, vines and figs can likewise crop well without extra watering especially if well mulched in humus rich soil. But for the majority of vegetable crops and many of our fruits good attention to watering will very significantly improve the yields.
When turf is thought of the allotment, vegetable plot or kitchen garden does not usually spring to mind. Almost invariably grass establishment, cutting regimes and care, is concerned with the production of a lawn, inevitably a high maintenance monoculture of mainly aesthetic importance. However most gardens, ornamental or productive, have grass paths, certainly the larger ones. This presumably as a sward is relatively cheap and easy to make and to maintain.
Although a kitchen garden rarely has place for a lawn as such it most certainly may contain some mown grass sward usually in the form of pathways. These are primarily functional but also have a visual aspect which we normally wish to maintain. I now wish to introduce the idea of using the sward as a fertility generator. First however I have to explain the tremendous value of grass clippings and their utilisation as a free home grown organic fertiliser and mulch.
One question I'm often asked at talks is 'which tool I consider most useful to a gardener?' The garden centres are stacked full of boys toys and the catalogues are full of all sorts of gimmicks and gadgets. How is the novice to know which tool is essential or most use? Or even more important what type or size of tool?