The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Growing vegetables all year round. January 2010 update


Photo: Frosted pots

Photo: Frosted pots

It’s still very cold here. There was snow yesterday and a bit more last night – just a sugar frosting. So pretty if you can stay indoors tucked up beside a glowing woodstove. The fur lined wellingtons that my mum gave me last Christmas have really come into their own this winter as they have grippy soles and don’t slip in the snow and ice.

The brassicas are much sweeter since the hard frosts and the Brussels sprouts are to die for. Completely different from the ones available in the shops. Today I’m planning to pluck some of the kale – Black Tuscany that offended us so much back in October. I’m also going to take Suzanna’s advice and take the smaller leaves from the centre of the plant. I’ve just read all the comments on that post and they are bursting with great ideas for cooking with kale.

I have some small Webb’s lettuces growing under an open ended cloche. In the snowy weather they looked a bit unhappy but have perked right up again now most of the snow has gone. The mizuna and Italian lettuce leaves that are growing under domed cloches in the kitchen garden pots are doing well.

But the biggest surprise of all is how well the peas are doing under one of the giant homemade cloches. These cloches are great but I had to buy more anchoring pegs as the fleece has a tendency to blow off on a windy day, leaving the pea and carrot seedlings exposed.

I ran out of paraffin for the greenhouse over Christmas so was a bit worried about the temperature in the greenhouse. It is bubble wrapped on the inside and has an enormous curtain of bubble wrap over the door (courtesy of Freeman Harding’s generous packaging around the last delivery of jam jars). I had a peep yesterday afternoon and the thermometer told me that the temperature had not dropped below -2. So the bubble wrap has proved its worth!

I’ve decided to give our organic garden a boost by using biodynamic gardening techniques in 2010. I’m hoping to increase production by at least 25% – optimistic but not impossible. This should give us surplus crops to sell on the gate side stand as well as dehydrate for use later in the year.

By attempting to grow vegetables all year round we’ve already saved hundreds of pounds. But it’s the connection with nature and the changing seasons that I’ve enjoyed the most. It is wonderful to be able to harvest ultra fresh and tasty vegetables – with just minutes between plot and plate. I feel especially blessed.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Poppy

    Thank you so much for these tips. I’ve not heard of these methods until now. I have a suitable plastic barrel that I can paint black! Can’t wait to give this a go.

  2. Hi,

    I use an old black plastic dustbin filled with rainwater with a lid on as my ‘heat mass’ in the greenhouse. I use it for convenient watering (replenished by a water butt on a syphon) but it just sits there otherwise, stabilising the temperature to some extent. It is not doing much right now (it is frozen!) but I believe it helps chilly spring / autumn nights, keeping the greenhouse just that bit warmer, without more fuel; it also absorbs heat in summer. Other options are to put bricks, rocks or any similarly dense material in the greenhouse, so it warms up during the day and releases heat at night. I understand you can make paths with dense aggregate and the same principle applies. Presumably black polythene on top would increase heat gained. Hope that helps!

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Bib

    I do hope that you can get your vegetable garden up and running asap. I’m loving mine although with the snow there is very little that I can do at the moment. Meanwhile I’m busy with all the seed catalogues!

    Hi Joanna

    It might be worth considering bubble wrap in the poly tunnel. Even if it just extends the seasons for a few weeks.

    My brassicas are out in the open – with no protection. They look a bit droopy when it gets below -5 but as soon as it warms up they are back to looking fine.

    Hi S.O.L

    Great idea putting a mini greenhouse inside the greenhouse! How nasty of those kids – I’d be so angry if I had an allotment there. We are lucky that we have a big garden and just have to deal with the pigeons.

    My leeks look a bit unhappy too but hopefully they’ll perk up when the weather gets a bit warmer.

    Hello Cathy

    I’m so pleased that you are going to try out some biodynamic techniques this year. Danny thinks that it’s all a bit odd but is happy for me to try them out. There’s an interesting link here – where gardeners were experimenting with growing tomatoes

    Thanks for the tip about dehydrating kale leaves!

    Hello Small Pines

    You done so much work on your property this year – I’m not surprised that the vegetables had to take a back seat!

    We are experiencing the coldest winter for 18 years and the vegetables are holding up well in the snow.

    Someone gave me a pair of French windows and I’m going to make them into large cold frames for next winter.

    Hi Paul

    Sutherland kale is now on my seed list! I can recommend cauliflower Lateman as it crops over a long period and it so sweet and tender.

    I know what you mean about extending the veg patch! I’m thrilled with ours but am having trouble finding a place for everything.

    Hello Carol

    Of course it does!

    Hi Kate

    They are delicious straight from the garden. Wind is a problem here too!

    Hello Tamar

    I bought an Eliot Coleman book just before Christmas! It’s a fabulous book. So pleased that you mentioned him.

    I’ve found that the winter vegetables are easier than the summer ones – fewer pests, less watering etc. The brassicas taste great compared to the stuff in the shops. It’s good to see the beds filled with food!

    Hello LindaM

    Oh that’s a shame. I’ve got Swiss Chard under cloches and it’s standing up well to temperature of -5. I haven’t heard of heat mass – thanks for the tip.

    The greenhouse is lined with bubble wrap – which is supposed to conserve heat loss by up to 30%. I have a small paraffin heater in there which is lit when the temperature outside is below freezing. The home made cloches are working well too.

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