I always feel very optimistic with the turn of the year. A new chance to rectify all those mistakes I made in the garden last year, and the opportunity to try again.
One job I always try and have done by now, if I haven’t already done so, is the winter digging on heavy soil. Ideally, I would have already done this in late October or early November. If you have not got it completed, do so as soon as possible so that any frosts can help break the soil down.
With climate change we may not get as many frosts as we used too, so that our good friend, Mother Nature, may well not be around to help us any more. This means we are going to have to think again about how we deal with our soils over winter, and what can be done to help break down heavy soils.
I am a great fan of green manures. They protect the surface from heavy rain damage; retain nutrients in the upper layers of soil where they are needed, keep the weeds at bay and their roots help break up heavy soils.
Several types are available these days, ranging from Italian ryegrass, grazing rye, vetches - which are great for heavy soils - to different types of legumes. All do different jobs as well as adding very valuable organic matter. Some may be sown in the spring, while others require to be sown in the autumn.
Garden centres are now stocking a few types but for a much wider selection of green manures obtain a copy of Edwin Tucker’s catalogue – Tel. 01364 652233 or try Suffolk Herbs Tel. 01376 572456 . I think you may be surprised by what is available these days.
Gardeners are frequently saying to me that they cannot get hold of farmyard or horse manure these days. Green manures are a great alternative and, of course, much easier to handle as all you are doing is sowing seeds.
The right tool for digging is very important and I think size and weight are more important than type. We have digging spades and forks available specifically for the job. Some of these I, personally, find too heavy and often end up using a smaller and lighter border spade.
Handle shapes and position have also changed over the years, and I find the slightly forward facing handles reduce a lot of strain on the wrists and forearms. If you are only going to get one spade and fork treat yourself to a border set. These can be used for all jobs and will serve you well over many years if you look after them.
After use always clean off the soil, and then wipe them over with an oily rag. I know a lot of people feel this is a council of perfection but it really does make digging, or forking over, so much easier than trying to use a dirty tool.
Leaves, which still hang around or get blown into the garden, can be collected off the border using a rubber-tined rake. I find this type of a rake so much better for getting material off a bed. The rubber tines do not damage the crowns of the plants as sometimes happens with metal or wire types.
Remember to compost all the material you can. Alternatively you can take out a trench of soil in your vegetable garden. Move the soil you have removed to the other end of the plot. Fill in the open trench with the material you collect. Water this if it is dry and then turn the next trench onto this to leave another open trench ready for the next lot of material. When you get to the end of your plot cover the last trench with the soil that you used to make the first trench.
I also find this time of the year excellent for checking all the climber and wall shrubs. Tie in any growth coming away from the wall with a strong twine and check all wires or trellis to ensure they are in good order. If you find any damaged or broken wires replace them now while the plants are not covered in foliage. It makes the job so much easier than when the plants are in active growth.
I like the balls of twine that can be put in the pocket and the end just flows from the ball. I then have a sharp penknife handy to cut the length of twine needed. I do not like scissors for this job as I used to put them in my pocket and then stab myself when bending over having forgotten I had put them there. A penknife with a folding blade avoids this risk!