Preparing our garden for winter

It's time to get your garden beds ready for winter. In the Adelaide Hills, where our winters are mild, there are three main goals in winterising your garden beds. First, you want to protect your soil from all the erosion. You don't want all the soil to wash away over the winter. Next, you need to replenish your soil with nutrients that some of your summer crops have depleted. Finally, you want to plant something that you can eat in the early spring. After all, since we rarely have a frost,and we have ample rain, there are several plants that thrive in our Australian winters.

First, you need to remove all of the tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and other plants that are past their prime. It's really tempting to leave those last few green tomatoes on the fine to see if they will ripen, but you will miss out on our mild autumn weather for prime gardening work. You wanna make sure your beds are as weed-free as possible so that you are basically ready to reseed or plant out your seedlings. If your soil is full of clay, you may want to aerate the soil and work in compost by tilling it. And also if you have a pest problem, tilling your soil can disclose eggs of pests and they'll die over the winter. The only problem is that you will also bring up some old weed seeds, so you'll need to weed the seedlings that will inevitably pop up in the coming weeks.

If you prefer to focus on a no-till method such as lasagna or back to Eden gardening, you can skip the tilling method and just add 3 or more centimetres of compost to the top of the soil.

Since I am using raised garden beds, I prefer to till by hand and shovel rather than a rototiller. If you're digging it out with a shovel, you wanna get at least six inches or go deeper so your plants will have an easy time setting their roots.

If your last season's crops failed because of pest infestations or disease, it's worthwhile to have your soil tested. You may need to reset the PH levels in the soil. There is an easy gadget that you can use that you just stick in the ground, and it will tell you whether you need to add lime to reduce acidity or add sulfur, iron sulfate or peat moss to increase acidity in the soil. I normally need to toss in some lime because we use chicken manure on our crops as fertiliser, and it is naturally acidic.

The benefit of tilling in the autumn is that you can seed earlier in the spring. Usually people are really excited to start planting things in the spring so by tilling in the autumn, you can get it out of the way. Likewise, by tilling in the compost and leaves in the autumn, it gives the plants a little extra time to mesh in with the soil you already have in your bed.

For autumn harvests, you always put your seed in at least four weeks before frost, giving them enough time to establish, that so they won't die over the winter. I like to plant broad beans and brassicas. The broad beans fix nitrogen into the soil for your future crops to use in the spring.

If you plant them in a little too late, they'll be a little too small and tender and can die in the frost.

Planting an autumn crop is great to prevent soil erosion during our winter storms. The roots will set the soil in place. When you are ready to put in your springtime crops, you will cut the branches at ground level rather than pulling up the roots. The roots will keep the nitrogen where it needs to for your next crop. Then, toss the branches and leaves into your compost bin or worm farm for some green matter that will turn into soil that you can use later.

If you aren't going to grow an autumn crop, then just remove the summer crops and weeds, and then you can pile on either shredded leaves or straw, which will protect your soil from all the elements over the winter so that your soil doesn't deteriorate.

Last month, we planted out several herbs including oregano, thyme, dill, and parsley, along with some celery, coriander, and radishes. They are all thriving in this cooler weather. This week, we are planting broad beans and broccoli. We've already started harvesting the herbs and in two weeks, we'll pull out the radishes, so in the coming days, I'll post some great recipes to use up the bounty of the harvest.

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