|~ Bees adore Phacelia!|
While you're thinking about your spring and winter garden (you were thinking about what to grow over winter, weren't you?), spare a thought for your poor, depleted soil. It's served you well all summer in providing food and flowers, now it's time to return the favour.
I'm currently re-reading Charles Dowding's book on growing winter vegetables so I suspect that I won't have much bare soil as autumn blends into winter. However, there are several (currently unused) areas in the larger community garden that defeat my planting because the soil is overused or poor and dry.
One such space is the north bed containing a few rose bushes. These bushes have been there for at least a couple of decades. Whatever was planted on the other side of the border has long since gone and even weeds struggle to survive here. (Surely a bonus!) If I want to make the best use of this space, I have to think about soil improvement.
I was reminded of this when I saw Phacelia tanacetifolia growing at the Skip Garden recently. It's a pretty plant with dainty purple flowers and ferny leaves. It has an extensive root system that puts nutrients back into the soil and helps to break it up thus benefitting the garden. Bees absolutely love the nectar laden flowers and it's gaining popularity as cut flower with a vase life of 5 days. Well known as a green manure, the leaves will bush up to crowd out weeds and provide ground cover shelter for beetles and other beneficials. (Possibly also slugs and snails, something to watch out for.)
Phacelia can be sown up to the end of August. The seeds should germinate within three weeks, then let the plants grow for two to three months. The decision then will be whether to dig the plants into the soil in late November or let them overwinter for earlier flowers the following spring. (If your soil is heavy, it will be hard work trying to chop and turn the plants into the soil in spring so best done in early winter.)
I'm going to assume that, like me, you'd want a green manure that wasn't going to make your garden or allotment look like a farmer's field or that the grass needed cutting. So, the other green manure that I would use is clover, either Crimson or Red, both of which can be sown up to the end of September. These are brilliant at drawing nitrogen from the air and dumping it in the soil via their roots. They also have a bulky growth that smothers weeds and pretty flowers in the spring.
As with all flowering green manures, if you don't want them taking over, it's best to dig the plants in before any flowers set seed. It may seem like hard work but just think of the benefits next year!
Seeds of both should be readily available from garden centres or online.
PS. If you're heading to the coast this weekend, seaweed also makes a great fertiliser. I collect washed up* seaweed from the beach after the tide has gone out, pop it into a bucket; back home, wash to remove the salt water, then chop it up and use to mulch around fruit trees and heavy feeders like brassicas. If you don't want it on your beds, add some to your compost where it will add tons of micro-nutrients to the heap.
* NEVER take seaweed out of the water or from rocks. Once it's been washed up, mid-beach tideline, it's ethically okay to use this.