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Guytons Garden - Winter a time to plan and prepare

Cider-902It's cold in Southland just now. Not biting-wind, or miserably wet-cold, it's crispy-frost cold and beautiful with it. There's a mere sliver of a new moon in the night sky and stars further than the eye can see. Mornings are snap-crackle bracing and the lawn, if you have one, is a white sheet of frost.

Nobody down here is up with the sun and gardening before breakfast; we gardeners are huddled over our hot porridge and coffee till well into the day before we lift a garden fork or spade and even then, there's little that can be gainfully done with the still-cold soil. This time of the year is best for other activities anyway, so we don't mind leaving the tools in the shed.

It's a good time for seed sorting; taking stock of packets of this and that left over from spring and summer and deciding if those half or quarter-filled ones are worth keeping, checking to see that the mice haven't been helping themselves to an early winter snack of flower seeds or stored seed-potatoes and making notes about what to buy in preparation for when the months warm up again.

Maori used the appearance of the Matariki star cluster to do their garden planning as their future depended on the security of their stores and the seeds they needed for the next round of food production and it's a good idea to follow their lead, despite the presence of supermarkets; they might not always be there, so developing good planning habits now seems prudent to me.

If, like me, you've plenty of apples still on the trees, and the pearmain and russett families are the longer-lasters of the apple world, you can make another round of cider before the winter-hungry birds start to take an interest in the chilled fruits. I pressed seven buckets-full of apples into juice last weekend and that's now bubbling away on the kitchen table, promising a plentiful supply of good, hard cider for the spring.

This month isn't an active one for the gardener who likes to sow seed. It's just too cold for the sprouting process to take place, so leave those recently checked packets on the shelf. You can set out your garlic and shallots now, if your soil is not too wet. Plant the garlic cloves below the soil's surface and the shallots on top. Blackbirds like to pull at shallot skins, so watch that they don't get scattered around the garden by the birds and if they do, replace them until the birds grow bored with their game.

As the moon moves toward the end of her cycle and the final days of the month, opportunities for pruning and planting present themselves, but I'm going to ignore them all, knowing that there are more suitable months to do all of those things. I'm willing to look upon June as a month off the usual gardening activities. I am though, continuing with my propagation programme, taking cuttings of everything that can be multiplied that way.

I'll avoid the days around the 20th of the month, when the moon is full and too stimulating for such activities. When the moon's face is full and bright, the way I expect it to be then, it's time for mid-winter frolicking and that means bonfires, mead and mulled wine. I don't know if that's how you do it in Mangawhai, but it is round these parts. If you're thinking you're in the wrong part of the country, based on any yearning you might have for such midwinter fun, you can always move south, we've plenty of room for you down here.

CIDER: Late season apples can be pressed and put to good use!


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