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Gayton-based hardener Jamie Marsh on getting essential nutrients back in the soil

In his weekly Jamie’s Little Allotment column, Jamie Marsh shows us how to prepare soil...

At this time of year, the harvesting is slowing down, and more and more of your growing space is becoming empty.

Whether you're leaving the beds empty for the winter or you’re going to sow some frost-hardy veg, for some lovely fresh harvests over the next few cold months, now is a good time to introduce some organic matter to the soil.

Starting a 'no dig bed'
Starting a 'no dig bed'

There are a few ways to get the essential nutrients back into the soil which has been drained out by all the amazing fruit and veg you’ve grown over the last several months.

The first is double digging, which is the method I can remember my dad doing In his veg garden.

Double digging is literally what it says on the tin. Remove a row of soil the width of the bed and the depth of the spade and put it to the side for later. use a fork to break up the bottom of the trench, then add a layer of well-rotted manure or your homemade compost. After that, dig over the next row of soil and instead of removing it, turn it onto the manure which is in the trench you have previously dug. Carry this process on right to the end of the plot. When you do reach the end, and you’ve dug your last trench and added the manure, the original soil you put to the side at the beginning can fill in the last manure-laced trench.

Starting a 'no dig bed'
Starting a 'no dig bed'

I must say, this is not the way I use on my allotment, it’s far too labour-intensive. I use a method called no dig. You may have heard of a man called Charles Dowding. He has really been showcasing no dig for the last several years, and listening to Charles made me choose no dig for a few reasons.

Because my new plot was part of the horse paddock, the beds were built straight on top of the grass. Part of the no dig process is to literally disturb the ground as little as possible, allowing the microorganisms, fungi, and worms to maintain the natural balance of the soil. So to start a no dig bed, you cover the grass or weeds with a layer of cardboard to block the light out, then top it with three to four inches of compost and plant straight into that. So by the time the cardboard has decomposed, all the grass and weeds below have died off.

It’s been proven that growing veg the no dig way will increase the quality and quantity of your harvests. And it’s so much easier than the double digging I spoke about earlier.

Anyway, back to getting nutrition back in the soil. All you do with no dig is add a layer of compost, and that’s it done, ready to plant your winter crops in.

This winter I’m trying to grow as much as possible but obviously, it has to be able to withstand the very cold weather

It’s a bit of a myth that lettuce can only grow in the sunshine when actually, lots of varieties grow so well through the winter. I’m also going to be growing a few different types of kale, mustard leaves, kohlrabi, spinach, chard, radish, parsley, leeks, onions, spring onions, and garlic, and there are plenty more to add to the list.

You can also start off your broad beans, peas and all your garden annual flowers now, to give them a good start for the spring.

So you can see, you don’t have to leave your veg beds empty over winter.

If you would like a bit more in-depth list of what varieties of seed I’m sowing in autumn, please email me at jamieslittleallotment@gmail.com

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