First post

There’s no mistaking it’s autumn again. One day it’s late summer, you go to bed, wake up and it’s autumn. There’s real chill in the air today. I’d forgotten what it felt like to have cold hands. The leaves are spinning from the trees then sticking to the wet pavement. It’s remarkable how from their totality of green uniformity that now every leaf is now a kaleidoscope of bejeweled individuality.
Plot 29 has felt the breath of autumn too. Growth has slowed right down as the sap thickens. A quiet and suffocating dampness sits close to the soil. The hazel poles have finally twisted and fractured under the swamping weight of the beans (we used last years poles and they have proven to be too brittle..shall use fresh poles next year). Perhaps the beans will come out at the weekend and open up some space for transplanting winter greens from their nursery beds. Hopefully this is the year we manage to move from summer, to autumn, to winter with a good succession of crops. Our winter crops have traditionally gone in too late as we enjoyed the spent beauty of late summer / autumn.
The change in air temperature has encouraged the chicories to change colour, their green fleshy leaves turning purple black almost overnight. We are hoping they will beef up their hearts a bit more before winter arrives.
We gathered salad for supper and made a plan to return on Sunday to tidy up.
What do you grow over winter..?

Howard Sooley

18 thoughts on “First post

  1. I’m so very delighted to see your horticultural impetus isn’t slowing, Howard. I have been an avid follower of yours for these past few years and the thought that you would no longer touch my life in the way you have, as with the Observer plot, was deeply saddening. I do look forward to reports on your continuing adventures.

  2. Nothing better than a salad prepared with the gifts of our garden! We had today our last tomato salad of the season and it tasted delicious.
    The best for the new blog!
    Garden Chair

  3. Sad to see you leave your old home, but welcome to your new one!
    Our crops are winding down, though winter squash, cabbage, kale, sprouts, leeks, salsify and parsnips are still quietly growing alongside the last beetroot, runner beans, fennel, celeriac, chard and courgettes. Must sow some winter lettuces and leaves.

  4. I am the first to find you…… really pleased you are continuing, feel sad about the Guardian blog, it was a haven, so different from all the other ranting facetious angry newsy blogs…have ‘met’ such lovely people there though. Hope they will all come here and we can continue our nourishing conversations and share our knowledge, trials and experiences.Thr chicories look very hearty, radicchio and pallo rosso? Deborahx, plot 2 just over the heath at Fitzroy park.

  5. There! I start as I mean to go on. My winter crops will be the exact opposite of yours because I’m on the other side of the world, now heading towards summer. But this winter past was instructive. Last year I told you about my huge hay-bale garden filled with homemade compost and sited on a sunny concrete slab. Then I had to move house. There was a short interval with a beautiful new potager garden, fruit trees and all, till one hot Friday night the local lowlife destroyed it. Never again.

    Then the local “pod” of Sustainable Gardening Australia connected me with Sue, who lives half a block away in Melbourne’s bayside, and cannot manage her large garden. What fun we’ve had, and what wonderful friends I’ve made in my new street. This “pod” is interesting: it’s more a collection of people who love to eat and drink every Friday lunchtime, and talk about gardening. No, that’s not true: there is plenty of dirty work done, honestly. And excursions.

    Here is a list of what’s gone in over the past eight months, excluding flowers and bee plants and perennial shrubs (and yes, I will post photos as soon as I learn to do it. We have documented everything. Perhaps Sparclear could contact me via email?):

    Potatoes, sweet potato, tomatoes, garlic, parsley, rosemary, hyssop, bergamot, carrots, celery, lemons, limes, kaffir limes, black muscatel grapes, swedes, turnips, broccoli, cabbages, kale, brussels sprouts – more of them later! – pumpkins, asparagus, rhubarb, broadbeans, basil, thai basil, coriander, chives, spring onions, sugarsnap peas, snow peas (mangetout to you), seven-year beans, dwarf bush beans, northern beans, chillies, capsicums, eggplant, new zealand yams (oca?), cauliflower, bok choy, beetroot, lettuce, watercress, mustard, cucumbers, zucchini, celeriac, turnips, swede, fennel, two plums, three pears, two apples, a pomegranate, and a triple-grafted apricot … I’m sure I’ve forgotten some, but I hope there’s enough for lunch.

    The biggest decision I made this year was never to use horse manure again. Instead I bought aged sheep manure from a lovely man who runs “Gift of the Woolly Beast” and it’s so much easier, both for compost and for direct digging into beds: hardly any weeds, breaks down more quickly because of its size, easier to handle and no smell.

    How’s that for a start?

    • @anne-marie Almost envy you the start of spring, but am so happy to welcome the first breath of winter. Note we don’t use horse manure either (‘wrong headspace, too hot’ as a biodynamic gardener once told us), stick to cow manure, green manure and various herbal teas. Allan

  6. I’ve followed your excellent blog from the east coast of the U.S., admired the community you’ve made around your plot. The easier availability of space in the US makes for more private, less connected gardening. I’m so pleased you’ll carry on here, and look forward to imitating some of your techniques, insofar as our harsher climate (summer and winter) lets me. Cheers! Chris

  7. I’m very glad I will be able to follow what’s going on on your plot here now that the guardian blog is over. thanks for providing such lovely pictures and information!

  8. Dear All, is this the blog-warming party? Is it free? Have I pressed the right bells and whistles to continue Graun’s old style blog where it left off?

    Gentle rain today perfect for several window boxes planted up as resource for winter greenery, lettuces and various wildflowers.
    To orientate in the new place (a 1st floor flat S. London) I’ve been picking up seedlings as I walk everywhere. Crevices in paving stones yielded a surprising number this autumn. Baby plants need carefully washing before replanting, but attuned to local conditions I feel they have good chances of thriving here. Looking forward to the new strain of Land Cress, beautiful small Sedums from the cemetery over the road = hardy soil covering. The Devon garden’s supply of compost has gone into the bases of the window boxes. On top I put a scattering of local soil, some ‘weed’ seeds will be in it but this is a great excuse to keep gardening every day.

  9. I’ve been gardening into winters for some years now. I don’t seem to be doing anything radically different this season, but perhaps it’s simply the slow, cumulative deepening of ‘gardening sense’, as well as Grace, of course, which has my fall-winter garden looking in better shape, across the board, than at any time I can recall. Only my purple fall cabbages, an until-now-bulletproof variety – Red Acre – are looking less than optimal. I’ve no idea what’s going on with them – timing was fine, the variety well-proven, and other Brassicas, including cabbages, in the same area, are perfectly happy. More often than not, I have no idea why a variety does worse or better than at other times. Some years, reliable varieties tank. Of course, through time, we learn how to stack our choices with a diversity of varieties that are consistently reliable, so the failures come in less often, and are covered by varieties taking their turn to excel. Zeroing in on varieties is one aspect of gardening through the years I really enjoy – such a fascinating narrative totally invisible to onlookers. Other than the fall purple cabbages, everything’s looking healthy, strong, and very well sized-up as we head into what appears to be the full-blown arrival of the winter at the end of this week. I’m a little taken aback by the breadth of success this year. Frankly, It’s a little surreal. My self-esteem needs to catch up with my garden!

    I dropped a handful of crops this year – kohlrabis and turnips among them, because demand for them from the small intentional community I support was poor, last winter. Needs be said, I have been told since I didn’t do enough to let peeps know what was available for eating, even as I recall very differently! Yes, I am learning a great deal about the dance between a garden and the community it lives in. Such bio-cultural dynamics are absolutely fascinating to me. As a rule, humility and silence (aka biting my tongue!) are good responses to many of the challenges I meet as a community gardener, I find. (smile) The parsnips, parsley root, and fall and overwintering romanescos I forgot to get seed for; the celeriac requires seeding before I really settle into my stay-at-home-go-nowhere-and-water-baby-plants mode in early July; winter radishes I have dropped because I prefer to use the greenhouse space for more productive crops.)

    Right now, we have varietal depth in sizeable plantings of: fall and overwintering cabbages, fall and overwintering broccolis, Brussels Sprouts, fall and overwintering caulis, rutabagas, chards, beets, carrots, leeks. Then a good deal of varietal diversity within chicories, endives, radicchios, asian mustards, indian mustards, and parsleys. Then cilantro, purple and green mizunas, purple and green chois, tatsoi, scallions, fennel (to be harvested before a frost), leaf celery. I place huge emphasis on spinach, arugula and purple and green mizunas, with ‘big’ plantings outside and under cover. Disease-free, even when grown densely in beds, they allow for repeated harvests through the winter. Outside, the arugula and mizuna will succumb to the harsher weather when it finally arrives, though spinach, I have learned, is one tough winter customer and will handle just about anything – varietal choice important, however. Under cover, the entire triumvirate will excel.

    A personal prejudice but I’ve not been a big fan of lettuce through winters. Though the crop is remarkably cold-hardy, the rains and associated disease pressure do them in soon enough, in my experience. Under cover, they require air circulation, so are space-hogs, and also tend to be more disease- and slug-prone than other greens. That said, the diversity of types on offer makes for an ecstatic palette and I’m a sucker for beauty. And, of late, I’m growing in a location no where near as exposed as the one I cut my winter gardening teeth in for many years. So, this winter I am coming back at lettuce in earnest again, having picked up diversity mixes from Wild Garden Seed, and Adaptive Seed – two of the finest seed stewardship operations Stateside, who happen to be very local to me – and Peace Seedlings, the little-known, very-difficult-to-find seed company, also local, run by the daughter of Dr. Alan Kapuler of Seeds of Change and Peace Seeds. With those diversity mixes in my hand, all three the highly personal selections of world-class plant breeders with a passion for diversity and great food, who live locally, I have a Narrative in hand. I’ve been repeatedly sowing those mixes a few months now, which has allowed me to make my own selections from them into my winter transplantings. Yowzee, to put it mildly. If the rains don’t come in too hard, they should go a while. Winter is my prime salad season.

    Local avant-gardeners/plant stewards have turned my little corner of paradise into the global center for kale-collard diversity. The backbone of my winter garden, I devote a great deal of space to them. I have been experimenting for years, and have recently reduced the diversity in my garden, focusing increasingly on varieties and accessions which perform spectacularly in garden and kitchen: a late-bolting (or ‘Hunger Gap’) extremely cold-hardy variety of Red Russian, a locally-developed variety of White Russian, a locally-stewarded accession of the classic Lacinato or palm tree kale, the locally-developed Green Glaze Collards, a locally selected strain of Lacinato Rainbow, a locally-selected strain of Champion collards; a locally-stewarded strain of Pentland Brig, the simply stunning Russo-Siberian Wild Garden Kale mix from Frank Morton (dizzying gorgeousness) and Adaptive Seeds’ B. oleraceae Kale Coalition (kale fisticuffs), both locally developed. These, as with everything I grow, open-pollinated.

    I got lucky this season. I fell out of a fruit tree and was down and out for a few weeks but timed the entire debacle _between_ major winter transplantings. Watering starts was a bit of a struggle but the key challenge, weeding, was covered by friends who came in and weeded at crucial points. My winter garden, a friendship garden.

    We die countless deaths
    a lifetime.
    Slayings, they quicken.
    Illusion fades
    to Essence.
    Friendship, lighting
    The Way.

    • dearest nick, have missed your sage advice, voice, will order in some wild garden kale mix and love the sound of the collard green glaze, are they also available? we are fighting bird damage to the last of the adaptive seed gulag star, mainly from our reluctance to net or plasti-tunnel, though fear we are letting aesthetics get in the way of sense, maybe not for the first time

  10. Great to see you back, Nick, and writing of your usual calibre.
    *doffs feathered hat*
    Feeling your range of kale would be a great thing to learn how to grow. Down my street someone’s front yard grows Italian kind, a smooth slender-leaved Black Kale – not my favourite but 10 out of 10 to them for challenging stereotypes of twee gardening.

  11. Kind words, you two, thank you. The Cascade Glaze collards are highly distinctive and perhaps my favorite leafy winter Brassica. Carol Deppe (author of Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties) who was involved in the effort to ‘restore’ the variety, tells me it’s one of the finest-tasting Brassicas of all. It’s extremely rare, indeed, completely disappeared ifrom the market in the past couple of years. Back now, though. Uprising Seeds and Fedco carry it. If you’d like me to pick some up for you, please let me know.

    The eponymous Wild Garden Russo-Siberian kale mix is from Frank Morton’s Wild Garden Seed. A breeding achievement which redefines the crop type. And sparclear, perusing English garden literature from afar suggests that kales are terribly under-appreciated your side of the Pond. Perhaps a reconsideration is in order. When the Seed Ambassadors traversed Europe in search of kales, back in 2006, the only Russo-Siberian kales they found hailed from US hands. Frank’s mix is the goldmine, especially for those of us who are ornamentally- as well as production-minded. Kale, by the by, consistently tops rankings of nutrient density in foods.

    Notable, isn’t it, that the top ten vegetables are all presences in winter gardens – which bodes well for the health of people committed to growing and eating winter veggies.

  12. Yes, would like some very much – the prettiest kinds extra welcome as garden now doubles for food and ornament. I am doing windowsill seed-tray cultivation too, salad sprouting, baby leaf etc.

    In the UK we are hampered by two things: the older generation had to rely too much home-grown winter veg in wartime, and many took up more Southern European diets once rationing was abolished and transport systems permitted.
    Typical field ‘greens’ for sale aren’t the nicest ones, either – ‘Curlies’ in Devon hardly ever organically grown, and taste sulphurous & coarse plus, like so many other veg grown commercially they get picked too late.

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