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From the Garden: Your green tomatoes are unlikely to ripen now - so use them up in chutney

As I’ve looked glumly from the house at the sodden garden, it’s been playing on my mind that it’s high time I got the beds in the veg patch covered down for the winter, writes Michael Kelly

It’s been a dodgy few weeks of weather and I have to admit that I’ve been spending very little time in the veg patch so far this November. The days are too short  for pre or post-work GIYing, and recent weekends have been too busy.

So, the only visits to the veg patch of late have been rain-soaked hit and runs to grab some grub for the dinner.

There’s plenty of veg still in the ground to harvest – carrots, leeks, squashes, beetroot, spuds, celeriac, parsnips, not to mention the greens (spinach, chard and kale). We’ve been enjoying some brussels sprouts occasionally and last week I even harvested some sweetcorn that should have been harvested, oh about 2 months ago. It was well past its best, but I was able to cut the corn off the cob and use it in a veg chilli.

As I’ve looked glumly from the house at the sodden garden, it’s been playing on my mind that it’s high time I got the beds in the veg patch covered down for the winter.

That’s primarily about returning nutrients to the soil that we took from it in a year’s growing. But it’s also about putting a physical barrier on top of the beds to protect them from winter weather.

The nutrients come in the form of one of four things – or sometimes a mix of some or all of them, depending what I have to hand. It could be seaweed, foraged from the local strand, compost from the compost heap, farmyard manure if you have a stables near by, (if not you can buy bags in a garden centre), or a green manure, a crop grown specifically to feed the soil.

For the latter this year I sowed a crop of rye, which can be sown up to late October or even early November, a quick-growing, hardy grass that feeds the soil as it grows and is dug back in to the soil in the spring.

The physical barrier can take the form of black plastic which serves a number of purposes: keeping the inclement weather off the beds, keeping them warm and dry and killing off any weeds (which will return their nutrients to the soil as they die off).

It also helps ensure that the nutrients in the seaweed, compost or manure aren’t washed away in heavy winter rain. Though I am not a fan of plastic per se, this is useful and reusable year-on-year.

The process of covering bare beds down will continue right through the winter as more and more bed space gets cleared of veg. Generally I aim to have it done before Christmas.

 The Basics: November Jobs

‘Earth up’ vegetables that will be buffeted by the winds and storms over the winter such as cabbage, cauliflower and particularly Brussels sprouts. Tie Brussels sprouts and sprouting broccoli to canes and apply mulch.

Continue to tidy up beds, removing crops, digging in green manures etc. Divide up your rhubarb if you want to propagate and cover it with a thick mulch of manure. 

If you grow perennial herbs outside, it’s a good idea to move them to a sheltered spot.

Continue to weed ground dug over since a crop has been removed. Remember the old saying: “one year’s seeding is seven years a weeding!”

Prune apple trees – you are aiming for a goblet-shaped open tree. Prune any crossed and damaged branches, and those that are growing in towards the centre of the tree. The key is to improve circulation of air around the tree. Don’t over prune as this will mean much leafy growth next year and little fruit.

Mulch raspberries, loganberry and tayberry plants if you haven’t already done so. Take cuttings of currant bushes from current season’s wood. Cutting should be 25cm long.

Recipe of the Week: Green Tomato Chutney

As the cold weather kicks in, it’s unlikely that the remaining green tomatoes will ripen up. So, thoughts turn to making a green tomato chutney, a fantastic way to use good fruit.

This recipe comes from the Ballymaloe Cookery School cookbook. I had to cook this for much longer than 45 minutes to get it to reduce by half and get it nice and rich. Makes 12 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars


• 1kg (2 1⁄4lb) cooking apples, peeled and diced

• 450g (1lb) onions, chopped

• 1kg (2 1⁄4lb) green tomatoes, chopped (no need to peel)

• 350g (12oz) white sugar

• 350g (12oz) Demerara sugar

• 450g (1lb) sultanas

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• 2 teaspoons ground ginger

• 2 teaspoons allspice

• 2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper

• 2 garlic cloves, coarsely crushed

• 1 tablespoon salt

• 900ml (1 1⁄2 pints) white wine vinegar



Put the apples and onions into a wide, stainless-steel saucepan and add the remaining ingredients.

Stir well, bring to the boil and simmer gently, uncovered, for about 45 minutes or until reduced by more than half.

Stir regularly, particularly toward the end of cooking. Pot into sterilised jars and cover immediately with non-reactive lids. Store in a dark, airy place and leave to mellow for at least two weeks before using. 


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