Now that the growing season has finished most summer crops have been harvested. The land is looking bare so now it is a good time to start preparing the ground for winter cultivations. However there will always be some winter vegetables to keep us in fresh produce for a few more months to come, so these areas can be dealt with later. Where green manures were sown after harvesting summer crops, the land will be fine over winter and can be cultivated last.
|Dave digging in the clover green manure|
It is a good idea to have some idea of next year’s rotational plan so compost can be allocated to where it is needed as some crops are gross feeders and others like root crops do not need fresh manure or compost. Hopefully the compost heap will be well rotted down and ready for use, but at this time of year there is always plenty of leaves and spent crops to start another compost heap for the following year. If you have access to any form of well rotted farmyard manure this can be spread over the ground and dug in during early winter, but if it is still fresh then better to mix it in with other composting materials. Up at City Road allotments we are blessed with a wood shredder so all fruit bush and other prunings can be shredded and added to the compost heap. However do not add diseased materials such as rose foliage infected with black spot, onions with white rot, potato leaves with blight or brassica plants infected with clubroot disease. Similarly although all annual weeds can go on the compost heap, do not add any perennial weeds as these will survive.
|John digging up the compost heap|
The type of worms that break down fresh compost are usually quite plentiful in most soils, so no need to buy in special packs of composting worms.
Although I try to complete all my winter digging before the end of the year, progress is determined by weather. Do not go onto the soil if it is wet as this could destroy the natural crumb structure, but if dry days are in short supply a slightly frosty surface should be just fine. Single digging to the full depth of the spade is normal practice, but if you have to incorporate a lot of manure or compost or if you are digging in a green manure crop it is better to take out a trench so there is space to invert the soil and keep compost and plants under the ground. At this time of year leave the soil surface as rough as possible to expose a bigger surface area to weathering. This helps to create a surface that is easy to rake down to a fine tilth in spring.
|Dave shredding prunings at City Road Allotments|
Some areas however may need special treatment of double digging incorporating manure or compost in the lower spit. Where ever new trees, shrubs, roses or fruit bushes are to be planted permanently, this will be the only chance to give them a good start to improve fertility and drainage.
Sweet peas are another plant that will benefit from double digging especially if you want exhibition quality blooms. Double digging involves taking out a trench and forking the bottom while adding manure or compost. It greatly assists fertility and drainage, allowing roots deep penetration of the soil, and although it is hard work, it is a great exercise provided you go canny.
While compost is being spread on the soil, keep some available for mulching fruit bushes and roses and even herbaceous border plants.
Areas planned for cabbages, cauliflower, kale and brussels sprouts will benefit from a dressing of lime to increase the alkalinity which these plants prefer, but allow a couple of months between spreading lime and manuring, otherwise some of the goodness will be lost as nitrogen evaporates.
Early chrysanthemums grown outdoors will now be finished flowering, so check over this year’s performance to see which are worth retaining for the next year, such as the dazzling white spray Pennine Ice, and discard any that have not lived up to expectations as you can always try out some new varieties next year. Cut back all stems to about six inches and tie a label on to mark the variety. Shake some soil off the stools and repack into trays with fresh potting compost and water in. These boxes of stools can be kept in a cold greenhouse over winter and new young shoots will appear about March ready for cuttings and starting the new season all over again.