It’s that time of the year when the growing and harvesting of our vegetables is complete and there is a vacuum of sorts in our raised bed gardening schedule. We are rather redundant with regards to work in our gardens at this juncture, but believe it or not, there is still a great deal of work that we can occupy ourselves with. It’s a bit like the tourist season in some locations, they shut up shop, get out of town and come back in the new year, depending of course, in where they live. Next year’s gardening begins right now as we can plan and prepare with gusto, in terms of getting the ground and especially the soil ready for the year ahead. After a vigorous growing season, the soil is now somewhat depleted and the nourishment and nutrients that were present, need immediate replenishing. If we do not look after the raised bed soil on a regular basis, we are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to expecting good returns from our raised beds.
However, preparing raised garden beds for winter is not an enormous task, but rather an element of maintenance that must be carried out on an annual basis. There are some gardeners out there, who continuously use their raised beds to grow certain vegetables all year round, but I have seen for myself that this is a mistake. The soil needs a rest and time to recover from the previous harvest and around the fall and throughout the winter months is the optimum time for this task. Some growers leave certain vegetables in the ground beyond harvest as they claim that the longer they remain growing, ultimately the sweeter and tastier they will be. If we do these maintenance jobs regularly, we will not need to replace the soil in our raised beds every year, but instead maybe only every three to four years would be sufficient.
Add compost to our raised bed soil;
This is one of the fundamental requirements for sustaining the quality of our raised beds and this is a task that’s relatively easy to accomplish. If we have our own composting quarters, some of this material may now be ready for the raised beds, provided it is a year or so in the making. Add a wheelbarrow or so of compost to a raised bed measuring 4′ x 8′. Fork in vigorously and mix this material with the existing soil. Do not worry too much if the compost is not properly broken down as it will sit in the soil for at least 4-5 months and will decompose in due course over that period. If we don’t have our own compost, our local garden centre or nursery will have tons of it for sale, so it’s rather easily available and also relatively inexpensive.
Replace the existing soil;
Yes, you heard me correctly, this is another method that some gardeners who use raised garden beds will use from time to time. There is an element of effort and work involved in order to carry out this exercise, but with this system we are giving our garden a complete makeover, it’s similar to changing the engine in our cars. We are starting afresh and have completely renovated the raised bed garden in total. It’s a really good exercise from a number of points and it is very practical and its also self-explanatory. We have disposed of the old exhausted soil and replaced it with new earth which would be devoid of any blight or plant disease and full of nutrients. Simply pull up our wheelbarrow parallel to the raised beds empty the soil down to a depth of 6-8″ and infill with the new topsoil. Add a little compost for good measure, leave to overwinter and we are done.
Plant a cover crop;
This is an exercise that professional and particular gardeners will do occasionally and for good reason also. As soon as we have removed all traces of our previous years growth, till the soil a little and spread our winter crop seeds over the raised bed. These will germinate in no time and will cover the raised bed area completely. The idea is that the roots of this crop will reach down and aerate the soil, it will also supress any weeds and pull any nitrogen elements that exist in the soil up towards the surface, thus fertilising and enriching the soil for next year’s vegetable growth. In the spring, a few weeks before planting, we simply rotavate these cover plants into the soil and that adds to the quality and care of our raised beds. Some of these cover crops would be Buckwheat, Alfalfa, Clover and Legume.
We all know what a lasagna meal looks like and to be brief, its layers of cheese, mince meat, potatoes and perhaps a layer of vegetables, each nicely organised to give a tasty delicious meal. Lasagna gardening is the same principal really that we would adopt in our raised bed gardens. We would have layers in our soil basically, made of all different materials. Topsoil, earth or dirt would be the main ingredient in this structure, then add a layer of compost, a layer of farmyard manure, maybe layers of newspapers or cardboard and finally a layer of mulched leaves. This is then left to nature to take its course and when the spring comes around, we have a fully fertilized and organically enriched garden in which to work with.
All of the above work is carried out in the fall, ie, September to October and our raised beds are essentially dormant over the winter months. This is when the magic happens in the soil and it’s something that we never see happen. The microcosms that exist in the soil breakdown all the added material and renders it into enriched nutrient garden soil, ideal for next years planting. The worms, lest we forget also have a large part in this process and contribute largely to the quality of our gardens. That is why the majority of growers do not use fertilizer to enrich their soil because it drives the worms further down into the ground and as a result we lose out bigtime on their soil enriching benefits.
Once again, I trust that this information is useful and informative, please do drop by every now and again as we are constantly updating our website and adding new material on a regular basis. If you would like to contact us, please use the comments section down below and we will get back to you as soon as possible.