Whether it's a bleak December or the more mild weather we are becoming used to, you can still spend useful time in the garden. David Coton suggests the jobs that can occupy the shortening days.
In the autumn, when there is a glut of fruit and vegetables, particularly if you have an allotment, you may have to store fresh produce or conserve it in some way, here Martyn Loach offers some advice.
If you safely keep fruit and vegetables through the winter, you save money and can enjoy their great taste over several months. Remember to sollect only the best produce, discard any that is damaged or diseased.
After lifting, clean soil off roots such as carrots and beetroot and then cover in damp sand. Dry potatoes so the skin hardens and keep in a hessian sack.
When their leaves have died back, onions should be lifted and left to dry, preferably on wire racks in the sun. When they are really dry and the skins papery either plait them using string or store in crates or baskets, and leave in a cool dark place.
Apples can be stored for a fair amount of time, particularly late maturing varieties, and pears between two weeks and three months.
Position the fruits in a single layer, not touching each other and keep different varieties separately. Make sure there's good air circulation and you can go to the trouble of individually wrapping apples in tissue or newspaper. Check regularly and discard any fruit that is showing signs of rot.
Many vegetables including beans, sprouts and broccoli can be frozen. First blanch in water to kill bacteria without destroying vitamins, then cool quickly add place in freezer bags. Berries and currents and many fruits such as damsons, even apples, can also be frozen.
Chillies can be left to dry in a bowl or hung up, they also freeze very well. Tomatoes can be frozen or you can make the equivalent of sun-dried tomatoes in the oven. Varieties with lots of flesh rather than juice are most suitable, halve and salt them and place on a rack at a low temperature (about 50C) for about 5 hours, they should still be slightly moist and can be stored in olive oil.
For fruit use syrup made up from 8oz of sugar dissolved in 1 pt of hot water. Trim off any stems and leaves, apples and pears should be peeled and sliced, and then completely fill the jar before pouring the syrup in. Now place the jars so they are not touching on a trivet in a large pan. Fill the pan with warm water (about 40C) covering the jars completely, bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 mins.
Making pickles, jams and chutneys is another great way of preserving fruit and vegetables, in fact pickling dates back 4000 years.
There's too many methods and recipes to go into here but the science is roughly the same. After heating fruit for jams, adding sugar helps prevent bacteria growth, while pickles and chutneys use a combination of vinegar, salt, sugar and spices.
For both bottling and making preserves or chutneys make sure that everything you use is sterilized either by heat or specialist solutions.
Although the days are short and the view from our Garden Centre is frosty and overcast, Andy Taylor suggests various jobs that can be done in the garden during the month of January.
Showcasing young musical talent, this year's Winter Concert at Arthur Terry School was an outstanding success and took place against the stunning backdrop of a Christmas Tree donated by GardenSite.
It was quite an honour for GardenSite to be asked to supply the Christmas Tree to Birmingham New Street Station this year, and to celebrate we're offering a Champagne High Tea to the winners of a seasonal selfie competition.
With Storm Caroline reeking havoc many people are likely to be contacting their insurance companies at some time regarding damage caused to sheds, greenhouses, fences and other garden property. Robert Hall explains how GardenSite.co.uk can help with an independent insurance quote and claim.