Improve the soil as you dig
Getting the most from your garden or vegetable plot depends a lot on how good your soil is.
In the height of summer it's easy to forget that soil needs looking after too. But winter and early spring provide the perfect opportunity while you're digging over any bare ground to improve its structure and add vital nutrients.
Depending on what you intend to plant winter is a good time to add fertiliser, soil improvers, homemade compost or well rotted manure to the soil.
Here's our quick guide:
FERTILISERS Every crop has its own special nutrient requirements; for example root crops don't do well in newly manured soils but all the pea and bean family are hungry plants enjoying well-manured moist soil. Brassicas such as sprouts, cabbages and broccoli do best on alkaline soils to help them avoid disease, so add garden lime to acid soils.
There are pre-planting fertilisers for specific plants and general purpose fertilisers to increase health and vigour for almost everything in the garden.
Rockdust is one of the most unusual fertilisers, made of 420 million year old volcanic rock it supplies natural volcanic minerals and trace elements to the soil.
Seaweed is well known as an organic feed and Bio-Gro Black Gold is a concentrated seaweed fertiliser and feed that works at every stage of plant growth.
SOIL IMPROVERS. Anything that bulks up the soil or aids moisture retention or encourages good drainage works well as soil improver. Incorporating grit on heavy ground lightens the soil and improves its structure while homemade compost or proprietary soil improvers add humus-rich organic matter to help the soil hang on to moisture and add nutrients.
HOME MADE COMPOST is cheap and easy to make from your own garden or allotment waste. Compost heaps need to be at least a metre square with a good mix of ingredients to be successful, and they'll also need to retain warmth at this time of year. Layer up nitrogen-rich grass clippings or green, leafy material together with layers of carbon-rich waste such as shredded paper, straw and spent brown flower stalks. Chop up any woody material into small pieces too speed up the composting process. Cover the heap while it's ‘cooking' with old carpet or thick cardboard; both work well as insulation.
Turn heaps regularly to fluff up the mixture and to keep their contents just moist, but not wet, to avoid bins becoming either too dry or too wet.