Chilly but beautiful

December is here and with it comes rain, wind and frost, along with the occasional day when the rays of the low sun cast a golden glow over the allotment.

The temperature may have dropped but leaving the house for an hour or so on the plot is just the tonic during the period of the year when light is at a premium.

Frosty days are often the most beautiful, with icy diamonds glistening on cobwebs and the old man’s beard festooning the hedges. Birds complete the picture, with their jewel-like feathers and optimistic songs.

It’s been so wet lately that I’ve decided not to try and walk on the soil for fear of compacting it, but there’s plenty I can do from the grass paths, such as weeding and pruning back particularly long rose stems to prevent ‘wind rock’.

Not too tidy

Nevertheless I try not to be too thorough in my tidying up, leaving the seed heads of red orache and cardoon for the birds to eat, while insects are able to hibernate within their stems. Rosehips are also left intact, their red shells adding a splash of colour on grey days.

It’s easy to imagine that there’s very little for me to eat on the allotment in December but a quick walk around reveals a few treats, such as stunning heads of Romanesco broccoli, with its intricately arranged green florets that make a delicious gratin and are fabulous deep fried.

The autumn raspberry is still producing enough fruit to liven up an apple crumble, although I’m quick to cook them once they’re picked as it doesn’t take long for them to go mouldy. When they run out I’ll make a start on the blackberries stored up in the freezer.

Meanwhile the last remaining carrots wait to be pulled, their flavour still sweet and fresh.

Looking ahead

As well as picking things on the allotment, I’m making the most of the opportunity to prepare for the summer months, when the plot will no doubt be a hive of activity.

Whether it’s bags of manure picked up on my travels, barrows of leaves swept from the school playground – an area where dogs aren’t allowed, so no concerns over contamination – or water from the combi boiler that’s collected in a plastic container while it gets hot enough for washing up, it’s all finding its way up to the allotment. I’m leaving the manure in heaps and plan to grow courgettes and pumpkins on them next year, with the decomposition process providing plenty of warmth, along with moisture and nutrients.

The leaves are being left in a big pile, where they will stay until millions of micro organisms have turned them into leaf mould for improving the condition of the soil. This is not a quick process – it may take two or three years to complete - but in that time the heap of leaves will provide shelter for a multitude of insects and beetles and possibly even the odd hibernating hedgehog or two.

the heap of leaves will provide shelter for a multitude of insects and beetles and possibly even the odd hibernating hedgehog or two.

Water is currently being stored in four pint milk containers, along with other large containers found over the year. Some is being used to top up our water storage butts, their contents depleted by the long hot spell.

Christmas is coming, so this weekend I’ll be out looking for greenery for a seasonal wreath for my front door. It’s also a good time to sit down with a seed catalogue and plan ahead for next year, or get out the sewing kit and repair all the holes in my gardening gloves. Day to day activity on the plot is slowing down but there’s still plenty to be done so that I’m ready to go when the growing season comes round.