Preparing for the winter

The gardening year is a cycle and as such there is always lots to be getting on with in every month. After a wet and dull summer the warm dry spell recently has been most welcome but it wont last, sooner or later its going to get cold. In the garden now is a very good time to tackle the compost heaps. All summer they have been overfilling with materials and so we have been harvesting the good stuff from the bottom layers and passing this through a sieve into a wheel barrow for re distribution around the garden and tunnel. In doing so we make space for new material coming in and keep the cycle going. To get the heaps going they have been turned and watered and this should be done every few weeks. This good stuff is better than anything you can possibly buy as its full of life.


I was recently asked how to setup a compost system for a home garden. For someone serious about capturing energy and re-using this in their garden a 3 bay pallet system is easy to setup and should cost you nothing. To do this you will need 7 similarly sized pallets. I think the composting system if possible should be placed near the centre of a  garden perhaps even to have pride of place beside the insectory. This will ensure it is kept tidy and close to as many other elements as possible. Level the ground and screw the pallets together leaving the front open for easy access. You start with 3 empty bays . Line the bottom of bay number 1 with twigs and woody bits to allow airflow under the pile. Then fill the bay with sucessive layers of browns and greens in 10 to 15cm deep layers. Ideally do this all at once by storing browns in bags and finding a source of greens locally. The heap should heat up to about 80 degrees in a few days. For exercise instead of the gym once a week using a pitch fork or similar turn the pile into bay number 2 adding more and more material for a period of weeks untill you reach the point where the material is fairly broken down and half the height of the pallets, it will be almost ready for use. Now transfer this into bay 3 to mature and use as needed. Begin the process again and by the time the next batch needs to move into bay 3 hopefully it will have been distributed about the garden. My local organic veg shop is prepared to drop their ” waste” to the house and perhaps others would be also.


Now is apple season and harvest time before winter sets in. To showcase some of this years produce we are organising a harvest day event. To produce a poster for the event a little art is necessary.




Out in the garden there is a big rush to take advantage of the fine dry weather and get the beds prepared and planted for the overwintering crops or protected from the rains by covering.


To close up a bed for the winter top it up with a generous amount of well rotten manure or compost ,whatever you have or can get and cover with mypex or old wollen carpets or weighted down cardboard. This way when spring comes the beds will be rested and the material will have been taken down by the worms and soil life. By the path we sowed a bed of winter wheat which will be lovely to watch growing and hopefully make some bread next autumn when it’s harvested. The paths between the beds have also been topped up with fresh woodchips. Woodchips are available for free from landscape companies if you ring them up as it often saves them the price of diesel in transporting it to a recycling facility.

I visited the organic centre recently and I particularly liked the little laminated information signs  Hans and Andy use. To do this write up and laminate the infomation on stiff card or similar then laminate it to protect against the rain. Using a chisel split the top of a bamboo cane and slot the card in. It’s more informative and eyecatching than those white labels that you have to bend down to read.


I’m into no dig methods and so below we are sheet mulching a bed with moist cardboard taken from the bins covering this with compost and planting some herbs through this. This method is particularly good at weed supression and as there is no digging involved, dormant weed seeds are not brought to the surface. It really does work. Alternatively moist newpaper works also and is easier for younger people to dig through.


Now is the time to de-foliate the tomato plants completely cutting out any side shoots and the tops. This will direct the plants remaining energy to ripen the green tomatos as much as possible before the plants are removed. We have completely stopped watering to reduce splitting and rotting in what remains. Some people lay the tomatos plants on the ground at this point on a bit of clean cardboard as it’s warmer nearer the soil surface.


Outside we are planting overwintering onion sets, garlic, green manures and broadbeans. Indoors there is still time to propagate some salads for the tunnel over the winter.


Up in the hills the leafy green transplants are growing well and so far neither bird nor slug nor bunny has got them.


Spotted this pedestal puffball in the garden.I’m not the only one eyeing it up for eating.


It’s been a busy but enjoyable few weeks holding the fort in work and visiting primary schools to do gardening workshops but I,m delighted that all the leg work is starting to have been worth the effort as the bookings are finally starting to come through. Below is a Paddy Madden idea for viewing a caterpillar.Over the last number of days a green veined white caterpillar found in the tunnel has been munching his way through the leaves inside this bottle and I’m hoping it might make a chrysalis. I will transfer it to a larger container with fresh leaves and perhaps find it a friend or two.  The kids and teachers loved it.


Here is my brochure for the primary schools if anyone would like to get a pdf version I can send one on if you email me at




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