With the summer garden looking more than a little worse for wear, it's time to turn our attention to the wonders of the winter vege patch.
The first job: get your seedlings up and running. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage along with celery and leeks all need good long periods to mature properly. In my opinion it's a bit late for celery and if germinated now leeks won't fully mature until spring. Still, there's no reason you can't have smaller leeks during winter, just plant loads more and you'll find them a sweet treat on those cold rainy nights.
Celery is a bit different and needs to grow to a good size to be a refreshing harvest. Carrots and parsnips are also on my winter menu, while nothing beats a sweet roasted beet.
Soil conditions also need addressing and I use crop-rotation as a guide (see my article on January 29, or at www.nzherald.co.nz). Anywhere I have just had a root crop I intend to grow legumes, so I trench or double-dig those beds.
Everywhere else I no-dig or sheet mulch (see my story on that topic in the January 29 issue as well, or online).
The reason I double-dig or trench at this point is because the soil has been dug over to harvest my root crops, so I might as well take the opportunity to get some goodies a little deeper into the ground. Here's how you do it:
Dig a trench along the length of the bed, depositing the soil at one end.
Dress the trench, starting with gypsum, which is rich in calcium and helps the soil retain trace elements and micro nutrients while neutralising soil acidity. Gypsum is excellent for improving the tilth of heavier soils such as those which are likely at the bottom of your trench.
If I'm planting a nitrogen-fixing crop such as beans or peas I use wood ash from the fire which adds potassium. A more refined version is potash which is mainly produced using inorganic methods these days. I put this in the trench, but a top dressing around the plants later will also do the trick.
Next, I go in with organic matter like sheep pellets, cow manure, seaweed or compost.
You can even use kitchen scraps if you are not planting the bed for a month or two. If you do use kitchen scraps, dress them with an extra layer of gypsum.
Next, dig a trench right next door, putting the soil from the second trench on the top of the first. In the second trench, repeat the dressing process, then dig a third trench, putting its soil on top of the second. Keep going across your garden, placing the soil from the first trench on top of the last one.
Lastly, never leave the soil exposed. Harsh sunlight, weeds or erosion from heavy rain causes deterioration in soils, so cover with straw mulch or green crop.
With a light dressing of blood and bone gently raked in before you plant, your winter crops will give you as much satisfaction as your summer ones.
3 of the best: dump finds
* Gib board
This is gypsum - the stuff you pay good money for in a bag. Great for lawns and clay soil.
It can take a bit of time but you can easily find enough material for a small shed or chook house.
Old carpetPermeable and hard-wearing, perfect under mulch, as a base for a garden path or for suppressing weeds around trees. Plus you'll feel right at home if you like gardening in your dressing gown.