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It’s that time of year again when although there are plenty of crops coming from the allotment, the early crops have finished and the raised beds I use need putting away for the winter.

I love this time of year, when you start to draw a line under the triumphs and occasional disasters of this growing season and look forward to the next. Gradually, the allotment falls asleep, and I can dream of what added delights are to come when it wakes up again in the spring. I’ve got a few winter crops which will keep me going, but it’ll be the peas and strawberries of next year that I’ll be looking forward to.

I have a little routine when it comes to clearing beds and putting them down for winter. First of all, I remove the remains of the old crops and, if they didn’t carry any disease, I compost them. Then I lightly fork over the surface and remove any weeds – bindweed has become a bit of a nuisance this year, but I’ve kept on top of it and it’s at a manageable level.

Raised bed sown with grazing ryeThen, the bed cleared, I put on a winter “quilt”, depending on what I’m going to do with it next year. A lot of them are sown with green manures – this year I’m using grazing rye as it doesn’t interfere with my rotation system, but so far it’s looking alarmingly like couch grass (it isn’t, of course, but I don’t like the similarity!) and they say it’s tough to dig in come spring time, so we’ll see if this is a success. Everyone sings its praises as far as retaining nutrients goes, so hopefully my misgivings will be unfounded. I’m sowing it broadcast, then raking in and watering gently, and finally netting it against the birds.

A couple of the beds – those I’m going to plant up with my “odds & sods” next year like courgettes and sweetcorn, which don’t really fit into a rotation plan – I’ll cover with a thick layer of pure manure. We get our muck from the stable next door, which brings it over by the tractor-load, and I’ll put it on so that it raises above the sides of the beds – that’s about a 3″ layer. That suppresses weeds, keeps in the moisture, adds nutrients and bulk to the soil, and generally improves growing conditions for my plants.

That done – I’m finished, and it’s time to start planning for next year. Sweet dreams!

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