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This month in the garden - 2020

December in the garden

It's hard to believe that the winter solstice is almost upon us. Winter doesn't even seem to have appeared yet and we're already looking towards the shortest day of the year. The continued warm weather has brought benefits as well as challenges. All the brassicas, lettuces and other leaves have grown like mad. But the cabbage white butterflies have not been killed off by the cold and so they have been laying their eggs, the caterpillars have hatched and now they are happily chomping away at all those lovely greens. The small cabbage white butterfly lays a single egg. The large cabbage white lays clusters of 40-100. They tend to lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves and if you can catch the eggs before they have hatched, it's easy to scrape them off the leaf with your thumbnail. Its a lot less messy than picking off the fat juicy caterpillars and all their green poo. The small cabbage white caterpillar is pale green and often hides along the leaf ribs of the plant it is eating. It's quite hard to spot. The green droppings are often far more noticeable than the caterpillars. The large cabbage white caterpillars are black and yellow and very easy to spot especially since they hang around in crowds. The best way to deal with them is to do a caterpillar patrol every day. You could also try covering your crops with net or agricultural fleece. This will help to control the pesky swede midge too.

The main jobs for December are thinning and weeding. Regular readers will have heard me say “keep ahead of the weeds” many times. I would like to elaborate on what I mean; weed before there are any weeds. Hoeing bare ground will disrupt any weed seeds that are considering sprouting and growing. It's a good practice to hoe around the established plants, keeping the ground clear of weeds and also preventing the ground from developing a crust so that when the rain comes the soil will absorb the water rather than it running off. Carrots, parsnips and beetroot are harder to weed while they are small. As the roots develop, thin them out where they are particularly crowded. Eat the thinnings or you could try replanting them elsewhere. Just remember to give the roots plenty of space to develop; overcrowded root vegetables are disappointingly small. Garlic and habas can still be planted and you can continue to sow lettuces, rocket and coriander for a constant supply.

Of course the unseasonably warm weather is not the only strange occurrence in recent months. As we seem to be heading into a technocratic state, a prolonged health crisis and a climate meltdown, it's hard to plan and look ahead in terms of travel and work. But it's not all bad, there has never been a better time to take back control of our lives. Planting a garden gives us some kind of security. We may not be able to produce all of our food requirements ourselves but we can provide habitat for insects, reptiles, mammals and birds and a nourishing environment to spend time in and to share with family and friends (adhering to all the correct safety measures of course). It would be very easy to fall into a state of panic whether your fear is the virus, financial insecurity or the looming apocalypse . Enjoy your garden: promise yourself to spend at least a few minutes every day watching an insect or smelling a flower. Enjoy nature and cherish it. It may feel like the world is collapsing but nature still thrives and we can work with her to also thrive. Look after the garden and the garden will look after you.

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