We all take a bit of extra care of ourselves in winter, whether it’s by buying a bottle of vitamin C and Echinacea tablets, including fruit juice with breakfast, or wearing a hat and scarf. So why is it, I wonder, that we neglect to do the same for our gardens when the cold weather arrives?
A month ago, I noticed the vegetables in one of my garden beds looking thoroughly run down. The leaves of the silverbeet were turning yellow, the carrot tops looked bedraggled and brown, the leaves of the cavelo nero were tattered and the plants themselves seemed to have adopted a ‘dwarf’ habit. Weeds were overtaking the rocket and the ground looked compacted and lifeless. At first, I thought: this is just a tired garden at the end of the season. The veges have had their life. It’s time to say goodbye to them. However, in my part of the world, it was getting too late in the day to be sowing more seed, or even to pop in seedlings, so I decided to see if I could bring my dying vegetable bed back to life.
First, I weeded. Then, I removed all the decaying, yellowing and damaged vegetation I could see. At times, this didn’t leave much in the way of vegetables, but I did it regardless and, even in their diminished state, the greens started to look a whole lot better. The cavelo nero were well infested with white butterfly caterpillars which explained why there wasn’t a whole lot of leaf left on them. I hand picked every bug off and used the watering can the wash off remaining eggs.
Next, I set about loosening the soil. There wasn’t enough space between the veges to dig so I carefully pushed the tines of a garden fork into the compacted soil wherever there was a place, and gently twisted them to break up the ground. I swear I could have seen those veges take a deep breath. Air was now getting into the soil around their roots and, along with it, moisture. My fork was doing the job of the worms which had long since vacated the bed.
Yellow plants are hungry plants but with a garden filled with already mature vegetables, you can’t suddenly go digging in manure and compost. Instead, I bucketed these goodies onto every available patch of bare soil and left them to break down naturally. On top of them, I laid a thick mulch of decaying baylage. I netted the garden to stop the birds digging up all my hard work and the last of the white butterflies attacking the cavelo nero again. Realising it would be a couple of weeks until the vegetables could make use of the nutrients I had put at their disposal, I instigated a regime of liquid feeding with seaweed and animal manure tea twice a week for a fortnight.
Now, as I look out on what was a dying bed of vegetables, I see lush growth. The silverbeet is upright and there’s not a yellow leaf in sight. The rocket is frothy, the carrots are perky and the cavelo nero have taken on a life of their own to the point where the now tall and leafy plants will provide the house with nutritious kale throughout winter and into early spring.
It’s very temping to look at a garden that’s past its best and give up on it. But with just a few rescue remedy techniques, that same space can come to life again and provide you with healthy vegetables right through the cold months. And whatever it takes to bring a garden back to life, at this time of year it will never be as impossible as starting all over again. So what are you waiting for!