Thursday, November 06, 2014

How we prepare the vegetable plot for Winter

As the days get shorter we start noticing a drop in the temperatures, especially first thing in the morning, that contrast with the hot sunshine we experience in the middle of the day. This warmth encourages a spur of growth not only in the vegetable plot but also in the garden and miniature gardens where the Lithops or pebble plants start to bloom.

The hot and dry weather we tend to get by the coast at this time of the year encourages the last of the aubergines and peppers to ripen whilst the Winter crops start coming into their own. In another post I will write about what is happening with the crops that we will be harvesting as Autumn deepens and Winter becomes closer.

The red peppers will be bottled, we freeze the green ones to use later in cooking whilst the aubergines we will be frozen after they are grilled or made into a pate.

In the vegetable plot, one of the main jobs we normally undertake at this time of the year is the clearing and composting of all those vegetable plants that have come to an end and digging of the soil in readiness for sowing oats as green manure.

Home made compost is a valuable resource and you can never have too much. This year the Summer months were unusually dry and as a result the garden produced a much smaller amount of organic matter that goes into the compost bins. At the beginning of Autumn, one of our compost bins was only half full and the other completely empty rather than both been bursting to the rim. We brought a few barrow loads of dry grass from a nearby meadow that our neighbour would have otherwise burnt. This grass comes from a meadow where animals graze and no chemicals have been used.

An important health and safety aspect to take into account when dealing with drying grass is the amounts of spores that semi rotten grass produces. These spores are a respiratory sensitisers and can lead to chest problems if breathed, hence the use of a mask. 

With the several barrow loads we brought in, we should have enough compost to dig into the soil when the next growing season starts in late February or early March. As the grass was rather dry, we had to water it to ensure it rots over the Winter months. 

Another of the big jobs that we normally undertake before the wet and cold weather season starts is the preparation of the soil in the areas now empty of growing plants in readiness to sow the oats as a green manure.

We considered buying a mechanical rotovator but decided against this once we found out that using these devices would kill most of the earthworms, an invertebrate whose benefits to the soil are numerous as they help the break down of organic matter and improve soil structure with the tunnels they create which also help improve soil compaction and aeration. Consequently, we use a spade or garden fork to dig the soil. It is nice to see how the earthworm population appears to increase year after year and as a result of the organic matter added to the soil.

Once the soil is dug over, a light sprinkling of oat seeds is applied over the whole surface before the seeds get gently raked into the soil. Some people leave the oat seeds to germinate whilst they lay on the soil surface. We favour covering them lightly with soil by raking them in.

As the oats grow, their roots reach deep into the soil breaking it up and thus improving its structure. With the oats covering the surface of the soil, seeds from weeds are less likely to germinate. The benefits from sowing oats or any other type of green manure at this time of the year are many.

We will often see Gawber and Wentworth eating tender oat shoots to purge themselves, another good reason to continue sowing oats at this time of the year. We find the oats will start germinating within 7 to 10 days depending on weather condition such as warmth and humidity.


  1. Anonymous12:08 pm

    Does the green manure rot down easily?

    1. Anonymous11:32 pm

      Hi. Gardening books advise you to dig in any green manure 4 weeks before planting. I have found that the oats have rotted down within 3 weeks but weather permitting I tend to wait the full 4 weeks. Let us know how you get on if you decide to grow some. Luis

  2. Do your local beach's ever have washed up seaweed on the shore line, it makes fantastic compost and contains so many trace elements. Wonderful stuff.

    1. Anonymous11:23 pm

      Hi Anne. We tend to get washed up seaweed in late September through to the end of November depending on the currents and storms. Do you use it as a mulch or compost it first? Thanks Luis

    2. We use it both ways Luis, if we have made a new bed we would dig it straight in, some things like potatoes and asparagus we would use it as a mulch, if we have any spare it goes into the compost but we normally have immediate use for it, just left to stand for a day or so it would normally get a good rain downpour on it first, but we have used it straight from the shore with no detrimental result.

  3. Anonymous10:05 pm

    So envious of the peppers and aubergines. Just thrown out the last of our aubergines which were clearly not going to ripen and picked many green peppers which similarly were never going to be red.

  4. Anonymous11:28 pm

    Hi Veronica. That is unfortunate. Aubergines do very well for us, specially a variety we buy from a local grower as we do not have a greenhouse yet and they are difficult plants to grow from seed without extra heat early in the season. With regards to the peppers we grow a variety called Isla that originates from Cantabria, further East along the coast; this is a variety that seems to suit best our local weather conditions. I am drying some seeds and if you I can post you a few once they have dried. Luis


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