Starting a New Garden
At this time of year, it can be tempting to put away your gardening tools and just put your feet up for the winter. Maybe you want to focus on seed catalogues and decide what you’re going to grow next year. But it’s also the best time of year to get your garden ready for next year, especially if you’ve been fired with enthusiasm after a summer of growing vegetables on a patio, and are taking over a new allotment, or making yourself a new vegetable patch in the garden. Follow this guide, and your soil will be ripe and ready for growing next spring.
1) Dig it over
There is no substitute for digging over your soil. You don’t need to do it by hand: if you can borrow, hire or buy a rotavator, that would be a very good way of doing it. If your soil is heavy clay, a rotavator will more than pay for itself over the years in terms of the effort you will need to put in to dig it by hand.
What does digging achieve? It breaks up the soil, aerating it, and also brings leached-down nutrients back up to the surface. It will also almost certainly bring up more stones than you thought existed in the world. Pick out the biggest and ignore the rest. Tell yourself they’ll help drainage.
2) Add organic matter
Once you have dug over your soil, then you are ready to add organic matter. Whether your soil is sandy or clay, adding organic matter will improve the texture, and make it closer to the ideal soil structure of loam, and also add nutrients for your plants. What’s more, adding organic matter isn’t just a one-off; ideally you need to do it every year and maybe even twice a year, in autumn and spring.
Suitable organic matter includes farmyard manure, soil improver, and mushroom compost, which is spent compost that has been used for growing mushrooms. Don’t worry, it will have been treated to remove any spores! You can also buy mushroom and manure compost, which is mushroom compost with added farmyard manure, to incorporate even more organic matter.
You will need to turn over the soil again to incorporate the organic matter.
3) Mulch your soil
Mulching is adding a further layer on top of your soil. It can be an organic substance, such as bark chips, or it can be a decorative mulch such as stone or slate chippings. You can mulch in autumn with manure or compost, and the extra layer will gradually penetrate the soil over winter, adding further nutrients that you don’t have to dig in. However, it’s probably more usual to mulch around your plants in early spring when the ground is damp, when the mulch will have the twin benefits of warming up the ground and also helping to keep in moisture over the summer.
And if you forget the key elements, take a look at this helpful little video on YouTube, which beautifully summarises the basics about improving your topsoil.