Now’s the ideal time to enrich your soil for the coming growing season. The best way to do that is to add organic matter to improve soil structure, increase fertility, and feed the essential microbial life that lives in the soil.
A thick layer of organic matter — for instance, compost, animal manure or leafmold — can be spread on the soil surface then forked or tilled in to the top 6-12 inches of soil.
Alternatively, spread organic matter as a 2- 3-inch thick mulch. Earthworms and other beneficial soil organisms will work the mulch into the soil for you. This is the best way to improve soil around perennial plants such as fruit trees and bushes, or around overwintering vegetable crops. Mulching with organic matter also helps to lock in soil moisture by reducing evaporation, which means less watering is needed.
Regular mulching is a key part of the no-dig growing method. Avoiding tilling the soil encourages a healthy soil ecosystem, which can enhance growth. No-dig beds should be narrow enough that all cultivation can be carried out from the sides, as this avoids the risk of compaction. Soil that’s not compacted shouldn’t need to be dug!
Many overwintering annual weeds and self-sown salads (such as mache, or corn salad) will form mats of foliage and, just like a cover crop, help to protect the soil from erosion and nutrient leaching. Leave these annual weeds in place until spring, and then hoe them off before they set seed. They can be left on the soil surface, dug into the soil, or composted.
Comfrey has long roots that draw minerals up into the plant from deep within the soil. When its large leaves are cut they can be used for feeding your soil and plants. Lay them around hungry plants as mulch, or dig them into the soil. You can also make liquid fertilizer from comfrey, which is great for fruiting crops such as peppers, tomatoes and squashes. Look out for the variety ‘Bocking 14’, which won’t spread like other varieties. It’s a useful plant to grow next to your compost heap.