What can a gardener do most profitably in these winter months when you can’t do very much in the beds or borders or in the greenhouse? One thing not to do is walk on the lawn when there is a frost because it damages the turf and leaves a yellowing mark that takes some time to grow out. Garden designers often say that you should try to see there is some way of reaching the bottom of the garden without going on the grass and it is also something to bear in mind when you position a bird feeder …
Last month I wrote about using garden compost so, if you haven’t got a compost bin, this is a good time to be making one. Any organic matter will decompose in time but the point of a bin is to encourage the process so that compost is of good fine quality, and ready for use as soon as possible. The essentials are something that keeps the material in a confined space, allows ventilation and ease of getting the compost out as well as putting material in. A problem with some plastic bins is that extraction is difficult and ventilation isn’t good. There is also an argument for keeping the bin dry, either with a roof or covering with old carpet. My bins are old concrete coal bunkers with a hinged wooden roof and with the concrete front replaced by a slatted wooden front that unhooks to allow easy access.
Solid timber is the best thing for making a bin and it is generally possible to scrounge some from somewhere rather than buying new which is expensive. If you can find some old pallets you can fasten these together ( probably attached to corner posts) without the need to do much construction work. Alternatively, with the amount of new building for old, you may find a demolition site which yields used heavy timber at no cost (with permission). Timber needs to be treated with wood preservative but not creosote as this is harmful to plants.
If you have got room it’s good to have two bins as this allows for the material to be turned over from one to the other to get air into the mix. This speeds up the process. Apart from this, the more compost you have the better. As one bin gets full I dig the material out from the top and, if I get to a level where it has turned into good compost, I leave it there until I want to use it or pile it up on a bare bit of vegetable patch until needed.
Most garden waste can be used for compost provided it is not too thick. If you have a shredder it is good to use this for shrub and tree prunings and dry stems of herbaceous perennials will break down better if shredded. Grass cuttings can be used but not in great quantities and not after the application of weed killer. If straw or dry shreddings are available mix this with grass cuttings A thick layer of leaves is best gathered up and used in black plastic sacks for leaf mould but a thin covering can be mown and used for compost mixed with the grass cuttings. The ideal is alternative layers of ‘green’ and ‘brown ‘ material; ie. material which has been cut while growing and then material which has died back before being used. You can use newspaper or shredded waste paper. Vegetable kitchen waste can be added but do not use any cooked material. This can encourage rats.
December and January are good months for attending to equipment that will not be in use. Lawn mowers are the obvious example where servicing and sharpening should be arranged before grass starts growing strongly again. Clean garden tools thoroughly and sharpen where appropriate. If you have found during the year that you lack a useful tool or one has become faulty add it to your Christmas list. Another piece of advice that I find difficult to apply myself is to wash all those dirty plastic pots and seed trays before you need them. You might find too that your shed or greenhouse could do with a tidy up.
(why am I thinking about plumbers with leaky taps ?)
Finally, if you have got any time left, you might read a book about gardening. I have got a few by Beth Chatto that I need to look at properly and her friend Christopher Lloyd is another classic garden writer, or try Anna Pavord, not to mention Alan Titchmarsh or Monty Don.
Happy Christmas !