Those autumn leaves

It was the old festival of Sawhain this week, a time to acknowledge the dark, the unseen, what lies beneath. Traditionally this was the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. If we work with this way of being part of the natural world, we get some indications of how to be on our plots just now.

Raking up leaves to make leaf mould – separate from your compost bins, in a wire cage to stop them blowing away again –  is a meditative activity, rhythmic and colourful, golds and yellows and some reds. And it’s certainly a gathering of the past year’s growth, and a wonderful resource for next year or the one after, to use in potting composts or as mulch. You can’t have too many leaves and there’s enough for everyone!

Thinking about what is unseen and hidden brings us to an appreciation of the living soil we depend on, with all its amazing microbial activity. So this is a great time of year to focus on caring for your plot’s soil, enriching it, protecting it, nurturing it. Try to fork out all the perennial weed roots that may have crept in over the growing season, but take care not to disturb the soil any more than you must. Annual weeds can just be hoed off and either composted or left on the surface for creatures to incorporate them into the earth. Putting a cover of well anchored cardboard on beds you aren’t going to crop till next year will protect them from weather erosion. And as much compost as you have to mulch and cover beds is a marvellous enrichment in terms of nutrients and structure.

We’ve only had one frost in the city so far; we need a few more for the starches in parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes to turn into sugars for that delicious taste in your winter roasts. It’s worth waiting to harvest them till they have had the cold chilling. If you have planned well this year you should have a bountiful crop of vegetables to eat just now, in addition to all those you’ve preserved from earlier months. You could be eating leeks, kales, cabbages, cauliflowers (for another few weeks), celeriac, carrots, plenty of salad leaves, pak choi, and squashes that you’ve got safely indoors in store now.

Once your plot itself is organised and prepared for the next season, it’s a good time to look at its structure: how are your paths? Are they encroaching on your beds? Remember that the great majority of your plot should be for produce! Could your greenhouse do with some glass repairs and a wash down inside (avoiding spills onto your crops of salad and herbs)? How’s your shed bearing up? Maybe it needs a coating of non-toxic oil or preservative and some new felt on the roof? And are your tools in needs of cleaning and sharpening?

And if you’re regretting not having been so well organised and assiduous this last year, with few crops to enjoy now, this traditional new year is the time for resolutions and planning for the future.