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┬ávery 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.