How to improve your soil over autumn & winter

raised beds

As we reach mid autumn it is a great time to give your soil a bit of TLC so that next spring your plants will have a better chance to flourish. Whether you are planting autumn crops or putting your plot to bed over the winter, doing one very simple little thing will make all the difference to your soil…add plenty of organic matter.

You can choose to dig it in, or if you prefer to go for a no-dig approach, simply add a layer over the surface as a mulch. Either way, what you’re doing is adding organic matter that will, as worms, beetles and other soil-dwellers get to work, improve drainage, aerate the soil and add lots of nutrients. All this benefits whichever plants you choose to grow.

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 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.
  • Wormcast fertiliser – sprinkling a handful or two over a raised bed will add extra nutrients. Great if you’re planting autumn crops.

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 5-10cm layer of compost if you can. In subsequent seasons, or if your soil is in fairly good condition already, then a 3-5cm layer should suffice.

When to add it:

As soon as you’ve harvested your summer crops. If you’re planting for autumn, you can just add the organic matter and then re-plant straight away. If you’re leaving your plot empty for the winter, it’s worth covering any empty beds with re-usable polythene to prevent weeds etc.