preparing for winterHave you any idea just how many spiders (large ones) are living under your floorboards? I do, because, like droves of other New Zealanders facing the approach of winter, I've been crawling around the foundations of my home installing under floor insulation to ward off the cold and to help minimise the expected increase in electricity consumption. It's all part of that hunkering down we engage in at the end of autumn, and I have to admit that, spiders aside, I quite like ensuring everything is shipshape, and snug enough to survive the ravages of winter – and that includes the garden.

When it comes to the autumn task of "putting the gardens to bed", I try to ensure that my workload in the coming spring (one of the busiest seasons in the garden) will be minimised. That means that weeding, digging, and enriching of the soil happens now, at the end of autumn or, at the very least, in early winter. Once the beds are empty of veggies, I remove any weeds, and spread over animal manure and any other goodies I can lay hands on such as seaweed or compost. It all gets dug into the soil along with the roots of any nitrogen-bearing plants such as peas and broadbeans that have been in the ground. Then it's on with a thick layer of whatever mulch I can source (old baylage or pine needles are my favourites). Finally, to hold the mulch in place, I stretch over plastic bird netting. During the winter, the rain can trickle through to the soil to aid decomposition while the netting prevents my precious mulch being whipped away by gales.

Of course, this putting to bed of the gardens is the ideal scenario. In reality, there isn't always time for it before the end of autumn, which is were an easily removable mulch comes into its own. Once your garden is emptied of veggies, do a quick weed, then lay over old carpet (cut to fit), opened-out cardboard cartons, or black plastic. Hold the lighter material in place with netting, bricks, or boards. Throughout the winter, as time permits, pull back the "mulch" and enrich, and dig it into, the garden, covering it again as you go. Working a little at a time, you will still be well prepared for spring while those around you will scratching their heads wondering where to start first on the over-grown patch of what was once their vegetable garden.

Top Tip

The very best thing you can do with an empty garden bed (if you have the space) is to give it a spell. That means not expecting it to grow anything in the coming year. Research shows that even when we enrich our gardens to compensate for over-use, they still perform better if we give them a break.

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