How confused are you? Me, I am totally in a state about what season it is- after saying in last week’s article that summer had passed the last weekend on my Welsh hillside saw it fight back. Is there no spirit in this season called autumn? The sun shone brightly in these pale azure skies and it still had a degree of pleasant warmth to it, the only giveaway of autumn’s lingering presence was the cool nights.
Still, let’s not complain of these beautiful days for it helps shorten the long, dark days that will fill the coming months. There is always plenty to do on the plot but looking at my plot last week I was amazed at how my gardening habits had changed. In my long ago youthful days most of the plot would be standing empty and my trusty spade would have been hard at work over the last few weeks, turning over the soil in large clumps. My soil is on the clay side and these large lumps would be ready to be attacked by the elements and broken down into a fine state by next spring. However most of my plot now seems to still be in use and those bare patches are an oasis of green filled with my sowings of green manure. There are also crops of fern top carrots in abundance and these are joined by the lovely red tops of the beetroot. These would be no more in my early days of gardening and the late September frosts would have taken their toll. Only the hardy winter vegetables would be there in all their glory at this time of year.
The other significant changes to my gardening practice are the current sowings of crops to survive the winter and provide early meals in next spring. I am, of course, referring to winter onions and shallots. I have just planted these and they will survive whatever the cold, dark days throw at them and give me an early crop of these in late spring. In those distant days of the past these would not be seen going into the soil until at least next March - oh, how times have changed. The greenhouse has fulfilled its task and the cucumbers and tomatoes are looking a sorry sight and are now to be removed. They have done a sterling job despite the poor summer and my salad dish has always been plentiful. So for these efforts they are removed, bagged up and off to recycling at the local dump. I dare not add them to my compost heap, even although they look fine, as tomatoes are silent carriers of blight.
There is a tendency amongst gardeners to be too tidy- all old foliage and vegetation is cleared away and there is nowhere for our gardening friends to spend their winter in comfort. Ladybirds need a dry place to spend their long winter hours and our garden favourite the hedgehog likes nothing better than a pile of old logs and a good covering of leaves. Like us, autumn is a period of plenty for them and they need good harvests to build up body reserves or, in some cases, to ‘squirrel’ it away for the lean times ahead.
The hedgehog needs to build up plenty of fat reserves as it is one of the few mammals to hibernate through the cold days. In addition to it finding its own food a dish of cat or dog food will help its cause for survival. These poor creatures are in decline so need our help and the garden would be an unhappy place without their feeding and other quaint antics.
Birds that stay with us through the winter find the going tough so do not be tempted to prune bushes or trees that have berries. These are a high energy feed for our winter species so do not deprive them of this full larder. Many birds will make our country their winter home so be kind to them and keep those bird feeders in our gardens clean and replenished to assist them in their fight for survival.
So leave the garden untidy until spring and help our garden ‘friends’ with these tasty feeds and we will all live in harmony.
My Life On A Hillside Allotment
Terry Walton is a regular contributor to The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 and has written a book called, My Life on a Hillside Allotment, published by Bantam Press. Buy this book at a discount from the Saga Bookshop.