Mixing things up

Who said winter was the quiet season? I feel like I’ve got a list a mile long to get things done before the seasons change into the busyness of spring. I’ve worked hard already this winter to try and keep on top of the beds to stop the weeds from truly taking over and I have the sector systems to thank for having a winter garden that isn’t raging out of control. In the past I have let things go and while it made for an easy winter, it certainly made for a back breaking spring!

The signs are everywhere – spring will be here soon enough. I need to get on with my to do list before it is too late.

Now that the garden has been planned and the seeds sorted, the next task as we head towards spring is to enrich the soil. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have had so much rain and I would be able to get stuck in and get the garden spring ready. This is supposed to be the time when I can leisurely prepare the beds without the demands of impatient seedlings waiting for new homes.

mowing the bed
Before I knew better, this was how I prepared my garden bed for spring!

Proper soil preparation is important for a successful garden, because you can’t continue to take from the garden. All crops remove goodness from the soil – some parts you eat as delicious food, and others get consigned to the compost heap at the end of the season. Even the weeds left to go wild in the garden over winter can rob nutrients from the soil. This goodness needs to be restored in order to have another successful harvest or you will deplete the soil and future crops will struggle to thrive and the harvest will be poor.

When the paths look a little muddy like this, I do feel a tad guilty sloshing about on them, but if the raised bed is dry enough to work… well it is just a path….

The soil is pretty much the foundation of the garden and I do love my soil – even if it does get a bit soggy from time to time. This ability to hold an extraordinary amount of water comes into its own in the heat of summer. I feed my plants often throughout the growing season to prevent depletion of easily accessible nutrients, but between the crops is when my soil gets the most love.

My routine is generally to add some compost, well rotted manure and a dash of blood and bone to the surface of the bed and then gently work it in to the soil so it is in the root zone and accessible to the plants. It doesn’t need to be dug right into the depths of the garden – the worms can do that. There is more and more research suggesting it isn’t best to dig too deep in the garden or you will disturb the soil structure and the habitats of the beneficial organisms in the soil that work hard to make things easy for the plants to do their thing – whether on purpose through symbiotic relationships or as a happy accidental biproduct of their activities. So I’m not in a hurry to upset these guys.

Gardena cultivator
My Gardena cultivator is perfect for tickling the soil to incorporate all the lovely enriching ingredients. It has to be my most used tool right now. I love it!

However, the soil does need to be disturbed from time to time – extracting your potato crop wouldn’t be possible without some soil disturbance, but in the past when I’ve dug my garden over it always bothered me to see the unintended harm to many an earthworm. So now I kind of ‘stir’ my goodies into the soil, but with enough time before the crop is needed, to allow them to settle in and become part of the structure of the soil, and allow the underground populations to work their magic.

Onion seedlings
Finally the soil was dry enough to add all of the lovely nutrient ingredients and after mixing well I was able to plant my long overdue red onions and shallots!

It also helps to consider the crops that were there before, when enriching your soil, as a hungry crop like sweetcorn will have made a considerable dent in the nitrogen reserves in the soil, compared to say a bean crop that makes its own nitrogen from the atmosphere through the nodules on its roots. So, you don’t want to enrich your bed and then find it isn’t enough and your next crop suffers, or even worse you wouldn’t want to over enrich things as this is much harder to rectify. A soil test is always a good idea if you are concerned about the quality of your soil.

Fennel the Cat
Ideally the best thing to do in a wet winter is to sit and watch the water drain away.

In an ideal world, it is also important to allow a refreshed bed to settle, so the tender young roots of seedlings don’t stumble across a pocket of pure nutrient that missed being worked into the soil, as this could burn the fragile roots. Having said that, sometimes, when it has been raining for weeks and weeks and weeks and you finally have dry soil and you ‘need’ to get your onions in – if you mix things in well, you can plant directly into the freshly enriched bed and your crop will be fine.

I always aim to do the right thing and I know and understand the benefits of doing things the right way. But sometimes there is a break in the weather and you just have to go for it. Nature is quite forgiving and probably laughs at our ‘rules for growing vegetables.’

Come again soon – there is a bit of tidying up to do.

Sarah the Gardener : o)

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