Whilst we harvest the produce from our gardens it’s time to think about how we are going to replenish the nutrients that have provided this bounty. Traditionally we have added copious amounts of well rotted organic matter from garden composting or farmyard/stable manure as we clear and cultivate our plots. Whether you are a dig or no dig gardener adding organic matter will help keep the soil in good condition, supporting beneficial soil organisms that break it down and make nutrients available improving soil structure and its ability to retain moisture. Adding well rotted compost is still very important and my personal favourite, but increasingly we are told ‘Green Manuring’ is an effective way of conditioning your soil.
Indeed green manuring may be effective but generally, in urban gardens it can be a challenge. The process involves clearing the crop, preparing the plot by firming and light raking, then sowing your chosen seed. There are quite a range from those that fix nitrogen ( Clover and Vetch), to cereals and grasses, (Buckwheat and Grazing Rye), they all however are seen as a leafy crop that will suppress weeds and can be dug in to provide organic matter and in some cases added nitrogen.
I feel that on a small scale it is more practical to use garden compost or well rotted manure. Either dig in,( a traditional way) or spread a thick (75mm – 3 inch) layer over the soil, cover the area with a weed suppressant membrane, then remove the cover in spring and you are ready to go, hopefully with a clean weed free plot.
Composting garden and raw vegetable waste from the kitchen is a great way of producing free organic matter for the garden. On a small scale a compost bin is a neat and effective way of producing your own but you will find that you will never produce enough, so it is inevitable that you will need to find an additional source. Nip down to your local allotment site and ask where they get their manure from, I find they are always very helpful.
Growing vegetables is very rewarding but before you start it is good practice to plan not only what you grow but how to rotate crops. The reason why we try not to grow the same crop in the same place year after year is for two main reasons, to avoid the build up pests and diseases, and to accommodate different crop types. Brassicas (cabbage family including swede and turnip), peas and beans (legume family), potatoes, onions and root crops (carrots, parsnips), all require slightly different treatment. Set aside a section for perennial crops that will be permanently planted, (rhubarb, asparagus) then divide the rest into three sections, the idea is to rotate your crop to the next section each year.
_ Year one, section one, brassicas.
_ Year one, section two, potatoes.
_ Year one, section three, onions, legumes and roots.
Year two, section one, potatoes.
Year two, section two, onions, legumes and roots.
Year two, section three, brassicas.
⊥ Year three, section one, onions, legumes and roots.
⊥ Year three, section two, brassicas.
⊥ Year three, section three, potatoes.
It is important to note that you do not manure the ground where you intend to grow root crops as this can cause the roots to fork, so in the autumn/winter only manure the site where potatoes and brassicas are to be grown in the following season.
The onset of cooler weather and frosty mornings signals the need to protect tender perennial plants such as pelargonium’s, osteospermum’s, fuchsia’s and dahlia’s. In parts of the country and in particularly sheltered areas it may be possible to leave tender perennials in the garden and protect the crown with a mulch of organic matter, horticultural fleece or straw. But there is no guarantee that in a severe winter they will survive. As a general rule, lift the plants immediately after the first frost, placing them in trays and pots and allow the soil/compost to dry out a little. Plants are now entering a resting period and do not need the same amount of water to survive the cooler weather. Place pots or trays in a frost free place, most will be fine on a shelf in the garage, but don’t forget about them, give them a little water occasionally so they don’t dry out completely. You will need to move them into a frost free light place, conservatory or frost free greenhouse in February/March to start them into growth.
(Next month, planting garlic, and autumn onion sets, clean the greenhouse and clearing leaves.).