The Autumn Cleanse and Rebuild

There comes a time when you really have to sit down, analyse your priorities, face realities and make hard decisions. The reality is that size 8 is a looooong way behind me, I have too many old clothes and not enough storage to cope. They have to go. And the same kind of logic must be applied to my vegetable garden. I’ve got very sandy soils. A long, hot and dry summer has seriously depleted the vegetable beds. Remedial action needs to be taken. I’m going back to basics and taking everything out.

It does make sense that my Autumn cleanse started on Mother’s Day. It was a good time to reflect on the important things in my life and the day was just gorgeously sunny. And so the process began. The clothes can wait, but that vegetable garden needs to be tended now.


The plan

I’m pulling everything out, digging trenches up the beds to be filled with compost and then green cropping the whole lot so it can have a nice long hibernation before ‘Springing’ back into action. This winter I shall be a micro-greening, sprout-loving, windowsill covering pot farmer. I mean growing in pots people…honestly…it’s so easy to be misinterpreted these days.

Step 1: Harvesting the last

The seeds are now all harvested. The last of the chillies, tomatoes and capsicums are now in. Jerusalem artichokes have been dug up. The final pick of flowers have been delivered to mothers around the place.

Step 2: Preparing for the migration

As my husband explained to a visitor the other day, the problem with a seed-obsessed wife is that there are constantly dying plants everywhere.  All those little projects now have to be cleared away. My herbs and perennials need a place to live for winter. Time to clean out the shed, get those pots cleaned, clean the seed-raising house and rearrange the deck to accommodate a lot more pots. Question: How much space will 60 lifted strawberry plants take up? I think I’m going to need some shelving…

Step 3: Of herbs and roots

In autumn after flowering, perennial herbs send their energies back into the roots to fortify and regroup. This is the best time to collect roots for use. I harvest marshmallow, echinacea and valerian carefully for medicinal use, separating off pups so I’ll have plants for next year. More on that later in the week…

Step 4: The final transplant

Anything that can be transplanted, is. Parsley, which isn’t really a fan of relocation needs to get hard and cope being slotted in amongst pots or bordering non-production beds. Calendula and borage seedlings have appeared all over and are in need of new homes. I can’t live without my 7 varieties of thyme, so they’re all being moved. This is the point I fully grasp the enormity of the task and lament the fact I’ve worked so hard to get rid of all those little plastic pots I loathe so much.

Step 5: Clearing the beds

Everything must go. All the tomatoes that have rotted and fallen are being raked up and fed to the worms. I don’t want them breaking down in the bed because of disease issues and I don’t want those seeds sprouting. Please read: A reminder of what seed-saving isn’t. All the plants are cut off at ground level. I want to keep the valuable soil biota that have entangled themselves in the roots to stay where they are. The roots will soon break down and help replenish the soil.

Step 6: Compost trenches

We’re on a suburban section. We don’t have a lot of space for a compost pile and there’s a renegade toddler ready to get into anything. Makes sense therefore to do the composting in situ. I’m digging trenches about 40cm deep, filling it with about 20cm of goodies and making compost right where I’ll be needing it and where midgets can’t get it. So to this elixir of life I am adding, pretty much in this order:

  • manure mixed with hay, that’s how I get it-cowshed scrapings. The best compost ingredient,
  • a sprinkling of lime or wood ash,
  • any twigs, bark, some shredded paper
  • some fish meal from the local fishmonger. Free of charge yet stinky as all hell,
  • my corn stalks, jerusalem artichokes stalks, prunings, any other dried material from the garden,
  • kitchen scraps,
  • raked up leaves,
  • Roksolid or any full spectrum mineral fertiliser for really depleted soils.

I’ll add a bit of soil between layers and moisten as I go. This isn’t an exact science. You just want to make sure there’s lots of stuff for microbes to work on, some air pockets and moisture.

Bokashi buckets, road kill, seaweed, sawdust, grass clippings – all good things to get into your compost trench. Just remember the golden rule of composting – not too much of anything. Lots of small amounts of different things is much better.

Make sure you’ve got a good layer of soil over the top so nothing is likely to dig that stuff up.

Step 7: Green crops

Autumn planting green crops is just wonderful. My wishlist for these cover crops:

  • I want to build up the amount of nitrogen, potassium and phosphates for my spring crops,
  • I want to build more soil structure and improve humus levels,
  • I want to keep up my backyard biodiversity,
  • I don’t want to be weeding over Winter,
  • I want to protect the soil from washing or blowing away.

Answer: Plant green crops. Let plants do all that hard remedial work for me. I have selected for my personal growing pleasure the following fine performers for autumn planting to look after my vegetable beds for me.

Lupins & mustard

Lupins fix nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil. Mustard stops that nitrogen getting washed out of the soil. It also cleans up any bad fungi that may be hanging out. I’m planting the two together where I had root crops. 8 plants per metre for the lupins with 3 grams of mustard seed broadcast throughout. Remember not to plant mustard anywhere near where you’ll be wanting to put brassicas in the next 3 seasons.


Produces a lot of biomass for use in the compost or as mulch for the early potatoes I’ll plant in Spring, where I have cut the phacelia out. Loved by beneficial insects. Sow about 4 grams of seed per square metre. You can buy phacelia seed from me here.

Oats, wheat and barley

A good mix to build up light sandy soils, while providing lots of organic matter for mulch in Spring. Sow about 7 grams of seed per square metre.

Broad beans

How I love broad beans. They accumulate large amounts of nitrogen in the soil, produce a lot of biomass, breakup clay and compacted soils, and they’re yum. Broad beans are especially excellent planted before tomatoes. Sow seeds a hand’s length apart.