Winter is a quiet time on the allotment, but there are things to do. It is a time when you might care for your soil. Many gardeners like to dig it over before winter. This allows air into the soil, which is important for plants, as they take in oxygen from their roots. However, it is important not to dig in very muddy conditions, as this is said to be detrimental to soil structure. Many gardeners like to create frost mould. They do not hoe the dug soil to create a tilth,. They leave it unhoed and let the frost break it up. By spring it should have broken up nicely into a tilth. I am hoping that whoever takes over my ex-neighbour's plot digs over the ground near the damson trees. These have damson saw fly, which might affect my damsons. A good way to attack the fly, whose larvae overwinter in cells in the soil near the trees, is to dig over the soil and expose the larvae to cold and predators. As the plot is not yet taken by a new plot holder, I might have to do it myself over Christmas, but it will take some hard work.
The problem is that winter rains can damage unprotected soil, as the heavy drops pounding the surface can break up the cohesion of the soil particles. For this reason many gardeners like to mulch the soil. Mulch is any covering that you lay over a soil surface. Sometimes mulches are there for protection, but they can also feed the soil. Many gardeners lay a covering of plastic sheets or tarpaulins over the surface. I am currently doing this on part of my plot. This protects the surface and deprives weeds of light. Light deprivation is a way of destroying weeds. The trouble is that slugs can hide and lay eggs under the tarpaulins. I spotted this when I visited this week. Under a tarpaulin there were quite a lot of slugs' eggs. I exposed an area overnight. The worsening cold and the birds would see off the eggs. It can be re-covered later, but I noticed a very anaemic-looking weed that was dying of light deprivation.The mulch was working.
Yet we also get leaves delivered by the council. I decided to mulch part of my plot with a leaf mulch several inches deep. This would serve to deprive some weeds of light, though not as effectively as tarpaulins do. However, that perennial nuisance, creeping buttercup, has forced its way through and some action is needed. Yet leaves will break down slowly and by next spring they will have added organic material to the soil and some soil structure. Different mulches have their own advantages. I am particularly keen to mulch leaves round my fruit trees,as deciduous trees are naturally surrounded by a leaf mulch in the forest, so they must benefit from it.
It is, however, possible to lay a covering of manure over the ground. This serves to suppress any weeds, protect the surface and add nourishment. However, manure sometimes contains weed seeds, so you will need to be wary of what springs up afterwards.
Winter is not a dead time for dedicated gardeners. It is a time to prepare for spring