Job to dig into now…December

Deck the halls with sprouts

It’s said we spend some £30 million on Brussels sprouts each Christmas, so now’s the time for kitchen gardeners to sit back and smugly celebrate the deliciously (money saving) rewards of a year’s hard work!

Get fruity. To ensure your New Year is a fruitful one prune autumn fruiting raspberries and gooseberries now, while the plants are dormant. Autumn raspberries can be cut to the ground while gooseberries can be pruned back to five main stems, around 15-20cm high. In summer, prune new gooseberry growth back to five leaves to encourage fruiting on the older wood. Apples can also be pruned by taking out dead, diseased or crossing branches to allow air to circulate. You can also pot-up small strawberry plants and bring them into an unheated greenhouse. They’ll require a period of chilling to initiate flowering, but under cover they’ll flower and fruit earlier. Keep moist but not wet and check for disease. Once flowering, feed and pollinate them by hand with a soft paintbrush, lightly brushing the yellow centres of each flower.

Order your seeds. There’s nothing better than curling up with a mulled wine and a couple of seed catalogues at Christmas. It’s a great time to look back and think about which plants worked well and which didn’t, and fantasise about your perfect plot.

Overwinter herbs. It’s the very last chance to pot-up herbs such as chives, parsley and mint to overwinter indoors. A cold greenhouse will do, but give them a little heat and they should last all winter if you pot up several plants, and pick sparingly. Christmas Mojitos anyone?

Pick a festive feast. If you’ve planned your plot just right, you could be picking your own delicious harvest for the Christmas table including Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflowers, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, leeks, parsnips and winter salad leaves. If you’re lucky, you might even have a Santa sackfull of greenhouse-grown Christmas potatoes too!

Recycle your Christmas. It’s estimated some 8,000 tonnes of wrapping paper is used each Christmas – using the equivalent of approximately 50,000 trees – so instead of throwing it away this year, try making use of it in the garden. Here’s four ways to reuse:

  1. Shred and add in layers to the compost heap along with the remnants of Christmas dinner. Or use it to make pots for seedlings. Choose thin or recycled wrapping paper that will biodegrade (avoid foil, or ones printed with strong colours as they may leach chemicals), and fold into long, thin strips. Lay a glass jar on top and roll the paper around it, overlapping the ends. Push the paper into the open end of the jar and pull the jar out.
  2. Protect your seeds in spring by tying foil wrapping paper to canes and place over rows. Glistening and fluttering in the wind, they are perfect for discouraging birds from eating your crops.
  3. Make packets for saved seed by unfolding another envelope and tracing the shape onto your wrapping paper and cutting out. Fold and glue into a new envelope.
  4. Tear up the paper and stick it onto empty bean cans, giving it a liberal brush of varnish when you’ve finished. Drill holes in the base and fill with soil and windowsill herbs – and give as Christmas or New Year gifts.

And this month’s top plot tucker…

 Homegrown Christmas treats

  • Brussels hustle. Who said sprouts were just for school dinners?! Pep them up for the festive season by boiling for 8-10 minutes then mashing gently (so you’re left with a chunky texture). Stir in a good dollop of butter, 100ml cream and half a grated nutmeg. Warm through with a handful of cooked chestnuts.
  • Celeriac salad. Mix 2tbsp olive oil with 1tsp mustard, a splash of cider vinegar and a squeeze of fresh orange juice and pour over 1 grated raw celeriac and some young chicory leaves. Scatter with segments of peeled orange and cashews, and season.
  • Royal roots. Add a dollop of honey and chopped, fresh thyme to parsnips before your roast them to bring out their delectable sweetness, and season with salt.
  • Luscious leaves. Stuff young, tender cabbage or radicchio leaves (or even Brussels Sprout tops!) with cous cous – cooked and fluffed up, and mixed with raisins, spices such as paprika, ground cumin and ground coriander, a handful of pomegranate seeds and a little olive oil, lemon and salt and pepper to taste.

Happy Christmas one and all!

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