Preparing a kitchen garden properly for winter will give you a better supply of food throughout the colder months, and a healthier, more productive plot for the following spring. Ideally, this preparation should be done before the hardest frosts set in.
Any annual plants that are coming to the end of their useful lives need to come out of the ground now. Compost them, unless they’re blight infested tomatoes or potatoes, or brassicas affected by clubroot (these need to be burned or binned).
Pick whatever crops you can at this point. Green tomatoes can be ripened indoors, lifted root crops can be stored in a shed or well-marked area of soil, and cabbages can be hung in string bags in a shed. Most other foods can be kept in the fridge for a while, prepped for freezing or preserved in other ways.
Plants that are reasonably cold tolerant can stay outdoors, but if necessary mulch around them to protect from frost, or create some natural windbreaks. You may also need to protect them from pigeon attacks with netting, upturned hanging baskets or bird scarers.
Large winter brassicas may need to be staked to prevent strong winds from rocking the plants and damaging their roots. Remove any yellowing or diseased leaves from them too, as these can harbour pests and infections.
Once old plants are out of the soil, you might want to dig the ground over and maybe add some well rotted manure. Clear away any debris such as leaves and twigs too. Twigs can go onto the compost heap, and fallen leaves can be bagged up and used to make leaf mould for next year.
After the ground is prepared, don’t leave it bare and exposed. Sow or plant the last of your winter crops into it, or try some late planting green manure seeds to keep down weeds and add organic matter and nutrients. If you don’t want to do that, you can pin down some landscaping fabric over bare areas, or cover with tarpaulin or other heavy cloth.
Now is a good time to make sure that any greenhouses and cloches are clean, tidy, mended and sterilised. Use hot water and eco detergent, and dry everything off afterwards. You can also clean off ground pegs and canes, and dunk them in a bucket with some boiling water. This reduces the risk of transferring diseases from one area of the plot to another.
Scrub any pots that are getting algae growing on them, to prevent staining. Any pots that you’ve recently emptied should ideally also be rinsed clean and sterilised before being put away. It’s also an opportunity to tackle any dirt or algae that’s built up on paths, paving slabs, decking or the sides of raised beds.
If you have a shed or other store, you might want to give that a quick clear out too, in case you want to store crops or equipment in it for the winter. Wipe down tools, sterilise cutting surfaces with meths, allow to dry, then apply some oil before putting them away.
Beating the freeze
Crops that are still producing well, but that aren’t cold tolerant, need some kind of protection. Depending on the plant, you can move it to a more sheltered spot, put horticultural fleece or a cloche over it, put it in an unheated greenhouse or bring it indoors.
Improvise cloches using old panes of glass or clear plastic, or buy mini polytunnel cloches from pound shops. Smaller plants can be covered with plastic drinks bottles that have had their bases cut off. Make sure all cloches are firmly pegged down or pushed into the soil to secure them against winter gales.
If you can’t move potted plants under cover, try wrapping the pots in bubble wrap, sacking or layers of horticultural fleece. Secure strongly with gaffer tape or garden twine.
How else are you getting ready for the winter?