How to rejuvenate & revitalise your veggie patch
Everything needs a good freshen up now and then, including your prized veggie patch.
When things get busy or the temperature drops, it’s easy to put all those garden maintenance jobs to one side. But as The Hungry Gardener, I know there’s no time like the present to do a little work revitalising your veggie patch – that is if you want fresh, wholesome produce throughout winter and to be set up for spring.
So, how do you go about it?
Firstly, do a quick appraisal of the state of your veggie patch. Are there any old crops in your garden bed that could be removed? It can be a tough decision to replace your crops, I know, but if they’re on their last legs and no longer producing, now is a good time to clear the way for new, seasonal crops.
When you pull out tired plants make sure you place them in the compost bin. Alternatively, you can chop them up and work the resulting organic matter into the soil using a pitchfork or spade. If you opt for the second approach, remember to wait a couple of weeks before planting anything new; this allows for the material to break down so it can add richness to the soil.
After retiring old crops, it’s time to feed the soil. Think of it this way: Each crop you grow requires food from within the soil to be productive. Afterwards, the soil will be depleted of key nutrients to some extent. The answer is to enrich the soil at the end of each crop to return it to a healthy, balanced position.
Your next round of plantings will thank you for the effort in the best possible way – with an abundant and tasty harvest.
I like to feed the soil with both compost and manure. Compost is decomposed organic matter – all the stuff we pile in our compost heap and allow to break down before we recycle it in the garden. Manure is… well, manure. Both additions are rich in nutrients and will really give a boost to your soil.
How to kick-start your soil
One thing I often do when kick-starting my veggie patch is to test the soil. Over time soils can become either too acidic (with a low pH) or too alkaline (with a high pH). This can impact the performance of your veggie patch because most plants grow best, and absorb all the nutrients they need, within a pH range of 5.5-6.5.
By far the most common case is that soil becomes more acidic over time. If this is true for your veggie patch, you can correct things by working some lime into the soil.
It’s also worth throwing some worm castings over the soil. This activates the processes going on within the soil at a micro-level. Think of soil as a living thing, composed of loads of different elements, all interacting busily to lay the foundations for your crops. Worm castings turbo-charge that activity, ultimately contributing to soil vigour.
As I constantly say, think of the soil first and plants second, whether you’re planning, maintaining or revitalising your veggie garden.
Once you’ve got your soil in top condition, selecting your veggies and planting the new season’s crop can begin.
Here are some extra tips to help you kick-start your veggie patch:
1. Allow manure to age
Make sure that the manure you put into your veggie patch is aged. Apply it too early and you can risk burning your young veggie seedlings. Manure you buy from the local nursery will be aged or alternatively, you can use a ready-to-go pallet form of manure.
2. Dig, dig, dig
Dig over your veggie patch to a depth of about 20-30cm when you’re freshening up your garden. This helps to aerate the soil and also provides a good base to work in healthy additions like compost and manure.
Dig over your veggie patch to a depth of about 20-30cm when you’re freshening up your garden. Picture: Fabian Capomolla
3. Testing, 1, 2
You can pick up soil pH test kits from your local nursery or hardware store relatively cheaply. They’re simple to use and will give you quick insights into the condition of your soil pH.
4. Add lime
If you’re applying lime to balance acidic soils, autumn is the time to do it. This allows time for it to settle in before your big spring crops. Sprinkle the lime over the top of well dug soil and then rake in evenly.
5. Worms (& worm castings) are your friends
Worms are great for soil health. They help aerate the soil and break down organic matter. What’s more, their castings are an excellent soil conditioner, helping plants to absorb all the nutrients that you’ve just added to your veggie patch. Ask your local nursery for some if you don’t have a worm farm at home.