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Every opportunity should be taken in the next few weeks to dig and manure the vegetable garden, leaving the ground exposed to the weather, which will help ensure it is in good order for next season's crops. Sweetening the soil with lime immediately after turning helps most crops, but not potatoes. Old cowpat base and stable manure improve heavy clay soils by adding humus.
Dig soft-wooded hedge clippings directly into the soil to decompose during the winter, or add them to the compost bin. Gather the last of the autumn leaves and stack separately to form a seed-sowing/potting mix, or add them to the compost heap. Left alone, most leaves take about a year to decompose into leaf mould. In the compost, they should be ready within half that time. Also useful for the compost bin are vegetable scraps from the kitchen, seaweed, sawdust, lawn clippings and the contents of the vacuum-cleaner bag.
Jerusalem artichokes should have dead tops cut off but dig the tubers only as required. In storage, they shrivel and toughen. However, the tubers can be lifted and kept covered with loose soil or sawdust, as recommended for carrots. The drawback is that any tiny piece of artichoke left in the soil or sawdust will sprout.
Asparagus plants should be cut close to the ground.
Late-flowering clematis, including the Jackmanii group, should be pruned before growth begins in spring. Choose a pair of strong buds 30cm to 1m above the ground and prune 10mm above the buds. There should be at least two pairs of buds below the cut. Save prunings and use to propagate more clematis, using the method for shrubs. Pruning hard may sound extreme, but it removes the unsightly dead foliage and enables the vines to be trained more readily on a trellis or fence.
Currants are ideal for small gardens and well-tended bushes will last for years. Named varieties generally crop better.
There is an important distinction between blackcurrants and redcurrants for pruning: blackcurrants fruit on the young, light-brown growth, so removing branches that bore fruit last summer provides space for new shoots to bear next season's crop. If a side growth of new wood 30cm or more in length springs from an older branch, prune the latter just above the new one. Otherwise, trim off all old branches near the base of the bush, just above a bud. Redcurrants and white currants fruit on old wood, so prune from when bushes are young to encourage growing five or six main branches. If that was not done, prune hard in subsequent winters to obtain that number of main branches and keep the bush to that size. Each winter, reduce leaders (tops of branches) by a third in length and cut side shoots (laterals) back to 3cm long.