The nights are growing colder and here, in the deep south, the last cut of the lawn provides precious heat-generating clippings for the compost. Mixed with fresh chicken manure, it will raise the temperature of the pile, especially if the warmth is held in with a layer of insulating carpet. From now on, I’ll add nothing more to this compost bin and, instead, begin a new one. Come spring, I’ll have a delicious pile of humus to add to the beds.
While some are wishing away the frost for a little longer, I’m look forward to the first crisp, star-spangled evening and sub zero morning. Without the frost, I’ll be waiting forever for the bushy green yam tops to be cut down and reduced to a wizened mass. April is the month for yam harvest and I have to time this perfectly if I’m to save my tubers from the birds. As the tops begin to decay and sugars accumulate in the crop beneath, birds appear from out of nowhere to peck at the bright pink and yellow yams sitting just beneath the surface of the soil. If I’m not watchful, in just a day or two they’ll have eaten a good proportion of them. If the weather grows wet and is unsuitable for digging, I’ll be forced to erect hoops of polythene pipe over the bed and to cover the crop with netting until I can harvest it.
Frost is also necessary to turn the starch in my parsnips to sugar and bring out the flavour of the roots. It’s difficult to wait but if I dig the parsnips before the really cold weather arrives, I know I’ll be disappointed.
In April, I maintain a watching brief over my Brussels sprouts. If I’m lucky, the dreaded aphids which have so far kept away, will keep their distance until such time as winter naturally disposes of them. But vigilance is everything. If just one plant succumbs, the rest will quickly follow. To give myself a little time, I have taken to planting the Brussels sprouts in several different parts of the garden to slow down the march of a possible infestation.
Seeding parsley is left to do its thing this month. With any luck, there will be no need to start fresh plants in spring. Similarly, a few seeding coriander, dill, and rocket plants left in the garden will drop seeds that will germinate in spring and offer the first flavour of the new season.
On the beach below my house, red sea lettuce is slopping onto the sand ready for collection. I’ll take the donkeys down to the sea and fill their panniers with the stuff. Sea lettuce is a wonderful source of nutrients for the edible beds. It is also easy to tuck around plants where it acts as a weed-suppressing mulch over the winter months. Now that the potatoes and garlics are harvested, and the last of the broad beans, I have some empty garden space so I’ll also take the trailer down to the beach and collect a few loads of bull kelp. Piled onto the garden now, it will break down over winter and replenish the soil.
My deciduous rhubarb is looking tired and has all but died down. The acid-free variety which keeps growing through the colder months, albeit it slowly, is begging for a tonic. I’m piling donkey manure and seaweed onto it, followed by a deep mulch of pine needles.
On the sunniest window ledge of the house, green tomatoes are ripening. Outside, the spent courgette plants are retiring for the year but not before producing a few misshapen fruits which I am happy to harvest. Spring onions are bursting into flower. I’ll leave some in the ground and, later, collect their seed. The last of the sweet pea flowers are lighting up the garden, and ‘Cécile Brunner’ is still blooming high in the pittosporum. Mr Possum is about but he is too late for the peasgood nonsuch apples which I picked last week, and my carrots are well covered.
Autumn is a gentle reminder to stock the shed with well dried gum and to order some new trees for the woodlot. Fully prepared, we are well placed to enjoy the excitement of the coming winter.