January is a pretty bleak time of year, but while your plants may not need too much attention, it’s a great chance to start to prepare for the year ahead. One of the most important jobs you can do in your garden over winter is preparing your soil to make sure it’s ready for planting in spring.
Why dig in winter?
You may not be tempted to spend too much time in the garden while the weather is cold, but winter is the perfect time to prepare your soil. The freezing and thawing process which takes place over the next couple of months works to break up heavy soil, making it easier to work with.
How to dig your soil
For growing vegetables, single-dig (to the depth of one spade blade) your soil into defined beds, mixing in a good amount of organic manure. Leave one bed to be dug without adding manure and use this to grow root vegetables, which won’t thrive in rich soil.
Dig each bed by creating a series of trenches. Once you’ve completed the first trench, put the excess soil into a wheelbarrow. For each following trench, add the excess soil to the preceding gap to create a small mound. Once you’ve finished digging the last trench, use the soil from the wheelbarrow to fill the final gap. This layout will make sure that, when it comes to planting, there are already defined rows and plenty of loose soil to use.
Dealing with weeds
As you dig, you’ll probably come across plenty of weeds which have grown since you last used the bed. Remove these with your spade or a garden fork and add to your wheelbarrow. These can be allowed to dry out before adding them to your compost heap. Be careful with the roots of dandelions, couch grass and similar perennial weeds as they are likely to continue growing and spread to other parts of the garden when the compost is used.
Testing soil PH
Winter is the best time of year to test your soil PH as your beds are largely clear of plants. Most garden vegetables prefer a slightly acidic PH of around 6.5. Pick up a PH testing kit from your local garden centre, which can indicate your soil’s PH as well as offering valuable advice on how to alter the soil’s PH or grow plants which are more suited to your current conditions.
If your soil is strongly acidic- with a very low PH indication, you may need to consider using lime to neutralize the soil.
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