Demand out-strips supply, we learn about phytochrome, and decide what to do differently next year.

Life goes on in the vegetable garden – just not at the frantic pace we witnessed during June and July. As I mentioned last time, we realised we were eating the greens more quickly than they were growing. We decided to give them a rest during November to let them have a chance to catch up. This of course meant having to buy greens for a while – not something we were excited about.

However, this accomplished two things: firstly we were very grateful for the bounty we had been enjoying, and secondly the veggies appreciated the rest and look a lot healthier now. We have started harvesting again but very carefully. The cavalo nero is doing particularly well and the pigeons agree.

The pigeons are also helping themselves to some broccoli leaves, but we don’t mind that too much. The pigeons after all do think it’s their garden. The sprouting broccoli is finally starting to look as though it might actually produce something to make a meal out of rather than just a garnish.

Pigeon damaged broccoli

Because of our supply issues I have been thinking of ways of making our crops next year even better and stretching over a longer period. There were a few seeds left in packets and there is always compost available, so some seeds were sown in little pots and put on the windowsill.

Interestingly only one of eight kale seeds germinated, whereas all the spinach and chard came through fairly quickly. Not to be outdone I decided to break into the new supply of seeds that had arrived ready for next year and sowed some more kale. This germinated in 5 days. The seedlings are growing very slowly even though they are warm and well watered. However what they don’t have enough of is light. Back to Google and this is what I found:

The response of plants to the relative length of day and night is called photoperiodism. Plants actually ‘measure’ the duration of darkness rather than of light. Plant response to daylight length is caused by changes in a pigment called phytochrome. The pigment acts as an enzyme – in other words, it activates certain processes without itself being used up. During daylight, phytochrome is converted to an active form, and in darkness it is converted to an inactive form. If the active form of phytochrome gets to a specific level for that plant, the enzyme can start changes in the plant.
More info at The University of Illinois

You can’t fool the veggies.

Cloches in snow

The fitted cloches on the narrower of our raised beds are standing up well to the weather. We managed to keep our salad leaves going much longer than expected, but want to make the most of this valuable covered space next year. We’ll aim to plant hardy greens with a fairly small footprint – like spinach and chard – earlier in the season here.

Still thinking of how to increase our output and extend the growing season I found some shelves to fit in our sunny porch. I am hoping they will stand in as a small greenhouse early in the year and a stage between sowing seeds indoors and putting plants out in the garden. I am also tempted to save some kale plants to stay in there permanently. Another idea is to put a row of chard in one of the flower beds. Chard is very colourful. But there are still no plans to dig up the lawn (yet).

Although there is not a lot to do in the garden at the moment apart from tidying and clearing leaves (‘Bob’ the robin is never far away during this exercise – he knows it’s his garden) there is plenty of thinking and planning to do. All the greens take a lot of nitrogen from the soil so this has to be considered. Rotating crops is all very well if you have a Monty-Don-sized patch, but is more challenging for us. The other issue is pests, and we have seen more bugs around recently. The recent frosts and light snowfall may have helped a little but we must not get complacent.

Planning next year’s layout and poring through the seed catalogues whilst sitting in the warm with a cup of tea seems a good way of passing a few hours.

– Lyn

Kale in snow

Got any tips or questions of your own about growing vegetables in winter? Leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear from you.


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