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December, Week 4: Mulching with Bracken, Bracken Use Through History, Cotoneaster Berries
GROW YOUR OWN FOOD WITH DIRTY NAILS: MULCHING WITH BRACKEN DECEMBER, 4TH WEEK The threat of harsh weather and frozen ground is ever-present at this time of year. Freezing conditions are both good and bad. Good, because the cold kills off a lot of soil-borne pests, and because the action of freeze / thaw leaves previously dug soil loose and friable in the spring. But frozen ground can also be a problem when it comes to lifting roots and other crops that are still standing on the plot. Dirty Nails tries to minimise the risk of having much needed food crops locked in to frozen earth by applying a thick mulch. Straw or bracken is ideal for this purpose.
Dirty Nails uses bracken on account of it being freely available on areas of common land locally, and because it costs nothing to cut and gather apart from the time and effort. He uses shears for cutting low down, and then rakes it into piles before stuffing it into plastic bags. Even damp and rotting bracken has a lot of sharp, woody splinters. These can slice the fingers painfully, similar to a paper-cut, so Dirty Nails always wears gloves for this job. Once in amongst his veg, he spreads the bracken thickly over parsnips, salsify, scorzonera and Jerusalem artichokes. Lines of ‘snips may have to be marked with canes, but the others have enough tops to show their position amongst the cosy bedding. Leeks are essential eating right now. To ensure access in even really hard weather, Dirty Nails mulches around their bases and between rows.
These can be tough times for the birds which afford such wonderful year-round company in the garden. A few handfuls of mixed seeds, scattered along paths and away from cat danger, are always well appreciated by his feathered friends.
VEGETABLE SNIPPETS: BRACKEN USE THROUGH HISTORY Since Neolithic Times, some 3000 BC, bracken has been put to a multitude of uses by humans. Dried bracken makes excellent litter for livestock. The Romans thought of it so highly that they used it as bedding for themselves as well as their animals. It has been commandeered as fuel for heating purposes and the baking and brewing processes. Bracken was widely employed in the construction of dwellings, especially for thatching. As compost in the gardens of large estate houses, well-rotted bracken was used as a bulky conditioning material which both lightened-up heavy soil, and bulked-up light soils. Latterly, in the 1800’s, it was used for the production of potash. In this form, it was an integral part of early industrial processes including glass and soap making, as well as the manufacture of detergents. Throughout this time bracken continued to be widely burnt for domestic purposes also.
Nowadays quantities may be mechanically harvested, allowed to decompose, then be bagged up and sold in garden centres under various names including ‘Forest Bark’. Many authorities consider that there is now too much of this plant growing in the UK. One theory for the explosive spread of bracken in many areas is that, now it is seldom utilised and therefore cut less, rotting fronds act as a protective ‘self-mulch’ over the tender crowns in winter-time. Instead of getting nipped in the bud during freezing cold spells, it is surviving and thriving. As a resource for the gardener, it is widely available for the taking.
NATURAL HISTORY IN THE GARDEN: COTONEASTER BERRIES There are many different types of cotoneaster. They are red-berried trees or shrubs with glossy green leaves. The abundant crop they carry in the winter months is often left untouched until late in mild seasons, but could prove to be a life-saver for blackbirds and other berry-eaters in prolonged cold weather.
This final month of the year is the perfect time for lingering in the garden. For Dirty Nails, there is always something to stimulate the senses and lift the heart, be it massive, drifting cloudscapes, intricate patterns traced by bare-stemmed tree branches, the chattering machine-gun rattle of a handsome magpie, or any amount of Nature’s wonders.
HOW TO GROW YOUR OWN FOOD by DIRTY NAILS (ISBN 9781905862115) is available from bookstores and www.dirtynails.co.uk priced £10.99.
In this section
- July 2nd Week; Harvesting Garlic, Developing Froglets, Working With Nature, Marbled Whites On Walnut Tree Farm
- July 1st Week: Harvesting Shallots, Potato Blight, Trinity, Jobs To Do This Week
- June, 4th Week: Red Cabbage, Watching A Drowning Bee Recover
- June, 3rd Week: Downy Mildew, A Much Needed Present, Mid-Summer In St James
- June, 2nd Week: Cylindra Beetroot, Working From Home, Weekly Jobs To Do
- June, 1st Week: Sunshine, Showers, Weeds & Tomatoes, Song Thrush
- May 4th Week: Cucumbers, Beans, Feast & Fast, Apples, 'Of the Woods'
- May 3rd Week: Succession Sowing, Bird Watching, Enjoying Pine Walk, Jobs To Do This Week
- May 2nd Week: Planting Out Kale, Looking After Water Boatmen, Christies Lane In May
- May 1st Week: Earthing Up Spuds, Greenhouse Slug Patrol, Tess' Story, Jobs To Do This Week