Winter is the time to sort out your soil!.jpg

Winter is the time to sort out your soil!

By: PAUL McKAY

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Teacher, Paul McKay, left London to live a self-sufficient existence in the Monchique hills with his partner Martyn. He keeps an assortment of animals and grows a variety of crops in an eco-friendly way – all on a limited income.

Improving the soil

VEGETABLES ARE very demanding crops compared to other garden plants.

To flourish they need to be in fertile beds, weed-free with adequate sunlight and water. Whereas cramped roots or poor soil can actually improve some plants in the flower garden, vegetables will suffer, giving a poor crop. To avoid this it is important to add fresh compost or well rotted manure on a regular basis, improving the soil.

Looking after your collies – lime

Brassicas will not grow well in acid soil. To combat this, the soil needs to be altered slightly to make it more alkaline. The addition of lime achieves this. Lime (a rock, not a fruit) can be purchased cheaply in agricultural shops in the form of broken rocks which are crushed onto the soil and rained in. Just to make things difficult there are a number of crops which are lime haters. Crop rotation insures the lime lovers and haters are kept apart.

Crop rotation

As well as adding compost and lime the other essential for rich soil is to rotate crops annually. If you repeatedly grow the same crops on the same patch, this will deplete the soil of nutrients. The simplest way to rotate crops is to band them into three groups, each group making slightly different demands on the soil. If you then rotate annually, the same crop does not visit the same patch of soil for three years.

In year one grow root crops on a patch of soil, follow this with other veg in year two and brassicas in the third year. Before planting each year, prepare the soil as follows:

Roots – no manure – no lime – add some fertilizer if you use it.

Other veg – add a lot of compost – add lime – add some fertilizer if you use it.

Brassicas – add compost – add lime – add some fertilizer if you use it.

If you can, add compost anytime from now, it will be rained in by spring. Never put manure and lime on at the same time, leave a month between them.

Chill-out – it’s meant to be fun!

Crop rotation and good soil preparation does make a difference to the harvest you will achieve. However if you miss out certain bits or the rotation goes a bit wrong on some occasions it is not the end of the world. Don’t get too strung out about everything that is written here. Vegetable growing should be enjoyable, fun and rewarding.

My knowledge of crop rotation came from The Vegetable Expert by Dr D G Hessayon. There are countless other sources and websites.