Autumn: a time to get ready for Winter

Things are changing.  Days are getting shorter and colder.  When the sun shines it’s still just about pleasant enough to sit out for an hour around noon but certainly not beyond mid afternoon.  Still clinging on to going out in shorts and sandals but need to keep moving …. briskly.  And I’ve fished out socks and shoes ready for when the sandals become too cool. The first forecast of frost was for overnight Wednesday but it didn’t happen.  Not here anyway.  But it did mark a change in attitude.  Time to let go of the lingering fond memories of summer and start doing practical stuff to prepare for winter.

Started the Autumn-clearing in the vegetable garden.  Not buying any veg at all at the moment, eating leeks, carrots, broccoli, beetroot and cabbage straight from the garden every day. Picking the small but tasty crop of Autumn raspberries.  Waiting for a frost to sweeten the sprouts and parsnips.  Courgettes now finished so I’ve cleared the sprawling foliage.  Still trying to find innovative ways of using the massive crop of apples which topped out at 160 lbs: not bad for 2 small bushes.  Like a squirrel hoarding nuts I’m busy making batches of stuff and putting individual portions in the freezer to pull out in the depths of winter.

One discovery was that the large crop of beetroot has been ravaged, the shoulders of most of the decent sized roots having been eaten away probably by mice …. or rats.  We had a constant battle with rats when we kept chickens because they came after the food left overnight in the feeder.  But that made them an easy target.  I trapped 28 in less than 2 years, put them in plastic bags and took them to the top of the mountain to leave out for the buzzards and ravens.  There was a distinct pattern to the trapping.  There were few in the Summer months but then several in a short time as a rat family moved in for easy pickings as Winter drew closer. Then a lull until another family moved in to the vacated territory.  Seems that this year they may be coming after my beetroot now they are deprived of hen food.

An important job in the garden during October is to move the tender plants back into the Blue House and the conservatory as the first frosts threaten.  This year that is less of a task as many were killed by the harder than usual frosts last winter.  Nevertheless there are significant numbers of aeoniums and agaves which survived and need protecting.  The aeoniums in the conservatory survived as they benefited from the heat from the house while those in the unheated Blue House died along with most of the cacti.

Cramming aeoniums, prickly pears, 'money plants' and geraniums into the conservatory

However, the agaves in the Blue House proved the most resilient and, if anything, actually continued growing.  The two which are in the ground in the Blue House are now getting so big that they are making it difficult to move around, spreading to about 8 feet across, the same size as the palm tree which is between them. I’ve had to put corks on the tips to avoid being savaged as I edge past them.  Some year soon now they will flower and that will be a BIG problem as flower spikes can be 20 feet high and the Blue House is only 15 feet high in the centre.

The Blue House agaves in 2003

..... and today

The soil in this part of the world is heavy clay of a type classified by the Ministry of Agriculture (or whatever it is now called) as one of the most difficult to cultivate in Wales because it is either glutinously wet or dry and cracked.  On average it is reckoned to be only workable for sowing an average of 8 days a year.  This year I had a huge crop of potatoes, earthed up with leaf mould before I left for Greece.  Growing potatoes has the advantage of breaking up the soil and, together with the leaf mould, this has left behind a finer, better quality soil, at least temporarily.  So a couple of days ago I planted garlic in it.  Apparently garlic needs frost to force it to split into cloves and so is best planted in October to take advantage of the upcoming winter.  I don’t know what the truth of this is, the countries best known for their garlic being around the Mediterranean and Aegean where frosts are not common.  And in the UK the centre for production of garlic heads is the Isle of Wight.  But for many years now planting garlic has been part of the preparation for winter.

Old Wives’ Wisdom would have it that an abundance of berries on trees and bushes is a sign of a hard winter to come.  My view is that it is an indication of the conditions we have had in the seasons just past.  Whatever, the birds are well provided for this winter, however it turns out, because there is a super-abundance of berries, particularly on the tree-cotoneasters.  Usually the berries sit there until a flock of birds from the blackbird/thrush family descends on them and then they are stripped in a few days.  They seem to eat chromatically, starting with the bright red berries, then orange, then yellow.

Cotoneaster loaded with berries

One preparation I need to make for winter is to cut up the wood to feed the fire when the weather turns really cold.  I hesitate to light the first open fire of the winter because that is so seductive that there is a strong temptation to just sit in front of it and read a book.  Can’t afford to do that until all the preparations are finished.  And there is still a lot to do.

Better get on with it.  Days are getting noticeably shorter.  I’m usually out of bed now in time to see the first light come over the hill.

Sometimes the early morning has a cold brightness

Sometimes the sun tries to break through small gaps in heavy grey clouds

Occasionally the dawn sky is fiery

..... and just take a closer look


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1 Response to Autumn: a time to get ready for Winter

  1. fleck1welsh says:

    Hi Barry,
    Just to note that the pictures didn’t come through with your blog this time.
    PS I’ll try planting a few garlic cloves this autumn too.

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