The Winter Garden

As the seasons progress and the cold winter months unavoidably approach. The life so abundant in the natural world is slowly brought to a steady halt in the winter garden.

While you may not think so, there are still plenty of things you can do in your vegetable garden even during winter. The most important of all being, preparation for next year.

With the coming and perhaps already present winter. Gives us time to sit back and recollect over the previous growing season. Considering our mistakes, new discoveries made, preferable changes for next year, new ideas that we may want to implement. Also considering things like crop rotation, what you may want to grow next year, what seeds to order etc.

Below you can find a few pointers consisting of things to keep you busy during the winter. Hopefully ensuring a greater success for your vegetable garden come next year as well.

Enriching your soil with compost is important. There is quite a bit of physical labour that can be done and is recommended during or just before the cold months in the winter garden. Many others including myself spread manure or well rotted compost around our plot as this will be broken up by the many insects and elements during your absence leaving you with rich fertile soil come spring. Some people choose to dig fairly deep trenches, filling them with vegetable waste and soft mulch such as leaves, shredded paper etc. This will also be broken down and can work in your favour by enriching the soil gradually however it's probably most best to use compost that's already primed for use.

Get out the seed catalogue. Unless you have stockpiled seeds from your previous crops or you have generous seed donators. Now is a good time to reach for your seed catalogue. If you haven't got a catalogue you can easily request one online from one of the many reputable seed bank companies. Or more simply, just order your seeds online.

I always tend to have bags of seeds left over from last year. However I'm always trying new and different strains in my vegetable garden. There are so many varieties of one vegetable. I enjoy experimenting, growing and tasting them all.

It is wise to choose disease resistant varieties when buying your seeds though. It will definitely prove worth while in comparison to a crop that would be susceptible to such a disease if you had not used a resistant variety.

Thinking about crop rotation. Crop rotation, if you didn't already know, is a method for reducing the probable build of diseases within the soil and to also replenish and rejuvenate your soil by planting different crops in different places every other year.

For instance, if you planted potatoes in one bed last year it would be wise to plant a legume or a brassica in the same spot the following year. Crop rotating generally occurs in 4 year periods, this however can be extended to introduce 6 or event 8 yearly crop cycles. I like to keep it simple with my limited space though. I've included a simple chart to the right.

If you like to grow numerous different vegetables in one single bed like I do. You can still rotate your crops by again, following the chart above. Last year I grew my broad beans fairly close to my potatoes so this year , in that same bed I will grow either brassicas or alliums.

Some say it's still safe to grow one vegetable in the same spot consecutively for a minimum of three years and then attempt rotating crops. I've never tried this personally as I'm always moving things around but it sounds reasonable.

Thinking ahead is important. As with all things, your garden will see great benefit from previous thoughts on preparation put into motion. This could be anything from crop rotation, wanting to plant new and interesting strains, switch out old methods for new ones in light of new ideas etc.

As for me, I will be making greater use of my space next year by trying to grow large rows of peas up my garden fence, both in the back garden and out front. I will also be introducing many more containers for easy vegetable growing, expanding my raise beds, building a more aerated, open and spacious compost bin as well as a new polytunnel.

These are just little changes I want to make as I'm pretty satisfied with my results so far. Although given the space, I'd be doing things a lot more differently. But that all depends on your circumstances. What's important is you find the time now to think about the coming year.

Cleanliness is next to godliness. If you want to prevent the build up of nasty diseases and parasites it's wise to clean the majority of your garden instruments. I'm not implying you take your garden fork in the shower with you but giving your pots and seed trays a good wash definitely helps prevent the build up and probability of such diseases.

As a final note. There crops that can persevere through the cold in the winter garden. This year I will be leaving out my winter cabbage which will be done come next spring. Hopefully. Besides cabbage you can grow leeks, garlic, brussel sprouts, you can even grow some strains of legume. There are many late varieties of many other vegetables on the market that you can grow prior to winter. However, you won't be able to harvest very much until the frost has finally departed and weather tilts to something a little bit warmer.