The urban farm in January
The Home Farm in January
It can be a harsh time for hens in the winter. It is a time to cossett them. Give the house and run a complete clean and then worm the hens so there are no internal parasites. A week later give them a dusting against lice and red mite and be sure they are cosy and warm for the winter.
If you can it is always a good idea to take them off the mud or grass in the winter. My birds get to spend their time under the car port. They actually have more room, it is sheltered more and I can clean the concrete much more easily.
The birds have the benefit of rainless days and they thrive. They might well go off laying, and since I have had two eggs a day for ages this year I am not sad to give their ovaries a rest. Ask me in March when I’m waiting for them to come back into lay and it might be another story altogether.
I give them a watering with a cap full of apple cider vineger (ACV) in their water, which does them no end of good, and they love it too. Then a little glycerine in the water stops it freezing when it is very cold.
On specially cold nights give them a little hard corn before it goes dark. Digesting this keeps them warm through the night and you will find they quickly get used to the feeding regime.
The one problem about my car port is that it does tend to act like a wind tunnel and there are few worse things for hens, so make sure they have a good deal of shelter.
December should be ‘All quiet on the Western Front’ so far as the bees go. Keep an eye on them just incase something or someone has disturbed them, but apart from that they should be fine. Check they have enough stores to last them through to March and feed sugar if necessary – see the Bees article. Then, especially if you have had a heavy varroa infestation, consider treating with Oxalic acid on a warmish day in the middle of the month – when there should be no brood in the frames.
You can still sow onions in small pots indoors to have them ready for planting out in spring.
Sow radish in modules ready to plant out in spring.
Continue with salad leaves and beets, even on the coldest weeks. If you have a cloche you can get yourself some salad leaves – I find beets are good, ready for February.
You can still sow broad beans.
In the south you can sow peas later in the month, in sheltered positions. Use a cloche for best results.
Shallots canbe planted on the shortest day and harvested on the longest, and just try one pickled shallot from last year with some mature cheddar – just to remind you why you are doing it!
Put well rotted manure and then straw on rhubarb crowns – around 30cm deep to give them an extra boost.
Early in the month check your new potatoes growing indoors for Christmas, make sure the tubers are well covered so they don’t green up.
Forcing rhubarb – you can dig up clumps of rhubarb and put them in a decent pot, preferably ceramic. Cover the pot in a stout box that cuts out the light and trigger the plant’s growth by warming it up in a shed or greenhouse.
Early in the month make sure your sprouts are well firmed in the soil. Strong winds will knock them over, and there is nothing worse than muddy sprouts for Christmas dinner. Similarly, look at your leeks and make sure they are really firm in the ground for the same reason.
A spade dug in December is worth three in March. Dig and incorporate as much organic material as you can – some manure, some compost. Your brassica patch would do well with a really good application of lime, a spade-full per square metre. This will help control clubroot.
Clean up the garden by collecting fallen leaves, old plants, fallen crops, old cabbages and sprouts. Remove anything that is rotting and have a look out for anything that might introduce disease.
Remember to lag and protect any outside water pipes against the cold.
Make sure you think about wildlife – leave some ‘untidy’ bits, piles of sticks, and don’t forget to feed the birds!
If, like me, you live on a street with a lot of trees, consider sweeping the remains of the leaves and make leaf mould out of them. To make leaf mould you need air and a lot of time. Usually you can keep them in a mesh recepticle, and it takes about a year. You can also buy string bags from a material that doesn’t rot. The important thing is there should be plenty of air about the leaves.
You still get over-wintering insect pests – look out for whitefly, especially on sprouts when you pick them on Christmas Morning! You will see a lot of chafer grubs when you are digging. As a rule of thumb, a healthy soil has both carnivores and herbivores. You don’t have to kill every insect you see in the soil, they will eat each other over the coming months.