Fruit & Veg: 3 Stellar Tips For Keeping Healthy Soil This Winter

Way back when I first plotted to overthrow the grass in my backyard with a few raised veggie beds, the results...well, let’s just say I’d rather not recall. I’d tilled the soil. I’d planted the seeds. And I’d watered them with my own hard-earned blood, sweat, and tears - oh, and water too I guess - but no matter how earnest, this ol’ green thumb of mine refused to sprout.

 A few years and more than a few ‘lessons learned’ later, and I’ve since discovered that it wasn’t all my own fault. I lost a few along the way to bugs, insects, and pests. Others? Their search for necessary nutrients was - pardon the pun - fruitless. And the rest? Wilted by icy touch of winter’s chill.

 Some city-goers would convince you that once the temperatures drop, it’s time to shut up shop. So, is winter the time to lock your tools away in solitary confinement in the shed with the spiders?

 Pffft, hardly!

 In fact, these colder months are the perfect opportunity to prepare your soil for Spring, whether you’re a crop grower sending your crops to the packhouse for packaging or you’re just pottering around your backyard. To help you along the way, I’ve dug up some of my top tips that’ll stave off the cold winds of a Kiwi winter while keeping your soil healthy for the months to come.

 Let’s…’dig’ in...

1. Set up a compost and add organic matter that packs a punch

Composting can take some work, but trust me when I say it’s worth it. In fact, there’s few feelings better than putting those leftovers to good use and reducing the amount of organic materials that your household wastes.

Through a little trial and error, I’ve found that ½ a centimeter or so of compost each season is enough to supplement your soil with the nutrients it needs. It also improves water retention rates, and helps keep diseases at bay.

What’s not to love? The key to success when composting is to not get carried away. Get ahead of yourself and soon enough you’ll have a compost pile that’s attempting a backyard coup. Bad compost! Bad! To stave off any unnecessary uprisings, plot out a manageable space for your compost pile, layer organic material like manure, kitchen waste, and weeds, and then combine this with leaves or straw.

Easy-as!Oh, and don’t forget to give it a little water and air while you’re at it.If composting over the winter months doesn’t appeal to your newly-chilled senses or sensibilities, preparing the soil for Spring is still a worthwhile way to spend your time.

If your beds are going to be sitting empty for the coming months, sprinkle over some compost and then toss on a cover such as a blanket. This will cushion the beds, moderate the amount of moisture, and reduce the impact of those heavy winter rains. Here’s looking at you, Auckland!

2. Plant cover crops & prepare for Spring

Here’s a tip that’s been passed along from a friend of a friend, and it’s still a favourite: cover crops. They aren’t just a great way to keep replant disease at bay - which they are - they also give your future crops a boost with much-needed nutrients.Legumes and other beans are my favourite go-to here.

These crafty beans protect the soil from erosion, while their root systems increase the amount of organic matter in the soil.

Plus, when you cut them back, they’ll leave nitrogen and other nutrients behind which gives your future crops a head start.

 That raises the question...what should you be planting next? If you’re fond of a roast potato or two over Christmas, July is the time to start sprouting seed potatoes so they’re ready for planting in August / September.

These winter months are also the best time to get beans, broccoli, cabbage, and all sorts of other seeds in the ground and growing. Oh, and if you’re looking for something sweet, strawberries produce higher yields when planted in winter, so get digging.


3. Stick to organic fertilizers & mulch

Winter is coming? Pfft, it’s the winter weed invasion we should be worried about.

At times like these it’s tempting to reach for chemical fertilisers and weed killers, but they often require frequent reapplication and the benefits are usually short-lived.*sigh*Much like my first crops…Anyways, as I discussed earlier cover compost is your best weapon.

It also isn’t always practical. Maybe you’re working with a smaller space, like a backyard balcony vegetable garden bonanza? Or perhaps your plant-growing is of the potted variety? Congrats are in order for your ingenuity, as is a ‘Not to worry!’: scenarios like these are where organic fertilisers truly shine. They protect your crops from the cold, conserve moisture, and introduce valuable nutrients back into the soil.A personal favourite of mine is Canola Meal.

it’s a finely ground material which is lightweight and easily spread. Unlike other manures, it’s also free from weeds - ain’t nobody got time for weeding - and helps support your new seedlings.

While you’re at it, try not to forget about the natural, organic mulches that are setting up shop in your backyard as you read. Leaves are always there for the taking - aren’t they ever - and they do a stand-up job of protecting your soil from winter’s chill.

Wood chips are great too, and an increasingly popular choice if the soil has already received some tlc in the intervening years.

Winter? It’s hardly a time to pack up and pack it in

Kiwi winters may be the perfect time to take to the snow or shack-up by the fire, but you shouldn’t let that green thumb of yours wither over the winter months either.

With some of the tips I’ve covered above, you can give your soil a little TLC even as those early-morning frosts begin to take hold.


 
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