If the ground is workable, dig over the vegetable patch, incorporating plenty of well-rotted garden compost or manure for crops that need rich soil.
Runner beans are particularly fond of plenty of organic matter, and so are peas, leeks and marrows. Other crops-carrots and potatoes, for example-resent rich growing conditions, so it is important to have a good idea of what is being planted where next spring, before you begin working.
Cauliflower curds will need protecting from frost by bending over an outside leaf or using horticultural fleece.
If the weather has been stormy, brassicas may need earthing up or staking against strong winds.
Rhubarb crowns that were exposed to frost last month can be brought into the relative warmth of the greenhouse now. To get pale, succulent, less acid stalks, pack the crowns-right-way up close together in large boxes, filling the boxes with moist soil or peat. The tops of the crowns should just be showing at the surface. Total darkness is necessary, so fix a screen of black plastic sheeting or sacking to go around and over the boxes. If the boxes are under greenhouse staging, simply hang black plastic sheeting down from the staging. A temperature of 10°C (50°F) is necessary to start with, and once the shoots have started growing, raise the temperature to at least 16°C (60°F).
Rhubarb can also be forced outdoors but the process is a much slower one.
Continue forcing chicory and seakale.
Discard chicory, seakale and rhubarb roots, once forcing is finished as they will be totally worn out and won't crop well again.
Continue blanching endive.
Bay (Laurus nobilis) is a Mediterranean tree and vulnerable to strong, cold winds and prolonged, hard frosts. If you have a bay growing in a pot or small tub which is easily moved, it is a good idea to put the plant in a very sheltered spot outdoors or a greenhouse for the next couple of months, until the worst of the winter weather is over. If the plant is to stay outside, lag the tub to prevent the root ball from freezing solid.
If the bay is growing in the open ground, or too heavy to move, you can protect it with screening or sacking as for other tender ornamental shrubs. In a severe winter, the leaves may turn brown at the edges, but don't worry as it is likely that new leaves will grow in spring.
Protect celery with straw or bracken once the winter really sets in. If you are in a windy site, put netting or soil on the straw to keep it in place. Although parsnips and leeks are perfectly hardy, in the depths of winter the ground is frequently frozen hard. This makes it very difficult to dig them out without damaging them. To prevent this, lay straw or bracken amongst them to stop the ground being frozen too deeply.
Look at stored vegetables occasionally to make sure that all is well. Onions, potatoes (keep them frost-free), parsnips, carrots, turnips and swedes all store well but, if any diseased ones are found, remove them immediately as the infection will spread to others. Although Christmas is nearly upon us, it is time to think about what you want to grow in the coming year. Try to buy seeds as soon as you can so that you get exactly what you want and are not disappointed.
If you have just moved into a new house, or if the crops in your existing garden are not what they should be, it may well be that the ground needs double digging. This method is explained in detail in our November section and can still be carried out in December provided the soil is in a fit state.
The main pest at this time of year in country areas is likely to be pigeons - they can quickly strip brassicas if left unprotected. In fact in a really hard winter, few green vegetables are safe, because most other food sources will be in short supply. The best protection is to net the whole area.
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Chard & Kale
Turnips & Swedes
Continue to use stored vegetables such as onions, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, turnips and swedes.