Autumn is a good time to nurture the soil

There is arguably nothing more important than looking after your soil when you are growing veg. Good soil will give you healthy plants that are better able to withstand pests and disease, and now is the time to give it some TLC.

The best thing to do is to add plenty of organic matter that will, as worms, beetles and other soil-dwellers get to work, improve drainage, aerate the soil and add lots of nutrients and improve soil quality/health.

What to add:

Any of the below will be perfect, and you can mix and match…

  • Homemade compost – this is the ideal if you have space to get your own compost system going at home.
  • Good quality bought compost – preferably organic and either peat-free or from a renewable peat source.
  • Well-rotted manure – if you can find a friendly farmer you can usually get hold of this cheaply. Make sure it has rotted down well for at least 18 months though.
  • Leaf mould – again, make sure it has rotted down well for 12-18 months. It’s an excellent source of nutrients.
  • Decomposed wood chip – if you know a tree surgeon, they’ll probably be happy to give you some wood chips. Let them break down in a pile for a year or two and you’ll have lovely crumbly compost for your garden.

How much to add:

This depends a little on the quality of your soil at the moment. If you have heavy, clay soil, you might want to add a bit more than if you have a fairly loamy soil. If you haven’t tended much to your soil in the past or if you are starting new beds from scratch, then try to add a good 10-12cm layer of compost if you can. In subsequent seasons, or if your soil is in fairly good condition already, then a 5cm layer should suffice. You can either dig it in, or just spread it over the top of an empty and relatively weed-free bed.

When to add it:

Autumn is perfect for tending to your soil, and very much mimics nature – this is a time when leaves, twigs etc fall and naturally cover the surface of the soil before they decompose to form the top layer. By adding a layer of compost or other organic material you are essentially copying this process. It’s also a good opportunity to add the extra compost/organic matter once crops have harvested and before you either re-plant or put plots to bed for the winter.

Top tips:

To further improve the nutrient content of the soil try adding some worm cast fertiliser. It breaks down slowly releasing nutrients over time and is probably the most natural form of fertiliser you can find.