1. What's already growing?
Before you start weeding or planting, take a really good look at what’s there. If it's a neglected garden bed that once had edibles in it then you may find little baby plants already self-seeding for winter. I’ve got loads popping up, and if I were to dump a load of soil over them, start weeding vigorously or digging everything over to create a blank slate then I’d lose valuable plants.
2. Can you save seeds?
Before you pull large plants out that have finished up, are there any seeds you could save? Coriander, parsley and fennel seeds are yummy in cooking. Beetroot and spinach plants look a bit weird when they’ve gone to seed, but chances are that if you had a silverbeet plant last year, you might have some seed just sitting in your garden perfectly adapted to your unique environment. If so, please treasure it, even if it looks like it belongs in a green waste bag.
3. Raised bed hack: hugelkultur (similar to lasagne gardening)
If you are building new raised beds, here’s a cost cutting tip with soil: Say for example your raised beds are 1m wide x 2m long x 1m high - that’s 2 cubic metres of soil to fill it. Potentially $300 + delivery.
You can actually fill the bulk of these beds with old logs, twigs, sticks, nikau palm fronds - pack it all down until the raised bed is half full, and trust that this filler material will one day turn to soil. You can then tip in loads and loads of mulch (aged is better), which will sink down through the gaps of the sicks and branches.
The top 25 cm should be good quality soil, but you can blend a fair bit of your native garden soil into the mix that you buy to plant into. Wow! you’ve just saved $200 and also hidden a huge amount of green waste, which saves another chunk of money or trip to the dump.
The method is called hugelkultur, but most people don’t realise you can do it inside a raised bed.
4. Go organic, use nature's fertiliser
The next tip is my favourite. Stop buying garden chemicals - both pesticides and fertilisers. Go collect some cow manure or sheep pellets instead, find someone with chooks or horses, and feed your garden the way nature prefers to do it.
Look up companion planting, and find out which herbs and beneficial weeds are good for your soil. A wonderful benefit of planting these herbs is that you also bring back the pollinators, the birds, and the insects.
5. Think ahead and make compost now for spring
Finally, save all your green waste for making soil is a great autumn task. Pile it all up in a bundle, and when you have about a cubic metre, you'll be ready to make a hot compost pile, to get it layered with inputs like cow manure, seaweed. It's super simple, but can save a huge amount of money. Go on and cancel your green waste collection. Depending on how much green waste you generate, you may never need to buy bagged compost or potting mix ever again.
Using biodynamic compost preparations means you'll be making a luxury product that cannot be purchased in New Zealand at the moment. It's the ultimate transformation of trash to treasure.
What will you grow this year? Do share!
I’d love to see photos of your winter gardens - what are your favourite vegetables to grow?
And I’m curious - have you planted extra this year ‘just in case’?
What I’m growing now for winter: onions, leeks, spring onions, celery, spinach, carrots, beetroot, bokchoi, pak choi, broccoli, kale, turnips, daikon.