Soil Prep for Winter Crops

choose the best soil in your garden

Hungry winter crops like leeks, broccoli and cabbage need awesome soil. Check in with it before planting out by grabbing a handful and squeezing it. If it looks kinda like the picture above – a nice moist crumbly chocolate brownie – then you are on a win. Further evidence of soil thats good enough to do the job, is seedlings that steadily grow onwards.

Preps for clay + sand

Aerating soil with a forksta

If your soil is hard or heavy clay you’d do well to aerate it. If you cant push your hand into it, your seedlings wont be able to spread their roots either. Aerating means sliding your garden fork (or this super cool forksta) into the soil as far as it will go, pulling it back towards you to open the soil then pulling the fork out. Repeat this all over your chosen spot.

Spread a fine layer of compost on top and sprinkle on minerals if you have them. If not spread seaweed or a layer of comfrey to ensure your dinner is mineral rich and your plants are strong.

If your soil is sandy, go down, not up. Scoop out the sand to about 10cm and line with a thick layer of wet newspaper then fill the hole with compost. Sprinkle on minerals if you have them.

Soak seedlings + soak the soil

soak your seedlings pre planting

Prep the seedlings by standing them in a weak brew of seaweed or comfrey or worm wees before planting out. If you have none of these to hand, just use water.

Prep the soil by watering it until its properly moist, then bring soil microbes to the party by soaking your garden bed with whatever biological brew you have.


brocolli seedlings

If you have worm castings add a handful with each seedling. If you have any rotten manure or seaweed dollop it around on top of the soil.


Buckwheat, meadowsweet, yarrow homemade mulch

Mulch seals the deal. Find it with a quick garden whip around. Chop up old crops and flowers, trim herbs or other soft foliage plants, mow the lawn and add in leaves, sea wrack, bracken… whatever is to hand. Mix all these bits and pieces together and spread them on. You cannot buy this kind of goodness.

jersey mulch!

If you well and truly don’t have enough garden waste, another option is to peg down bits of fabric (sacking, old towel, hubbys holey t.shirt from 1987, blanket…) around your plants with rocks or tent pegs.

Boost your plants along

Boost your plants along before the cold hits with a weekly biological brew ( a fancy way of saying liquid feed).

Its really easy and cheap to make your own. How bout making a bucket this weekend – it’ll be ready to use in 6 weeks time.

Emergency planting

Chard seedlings for winter greens planted in the flower garden

If you are short on time and/or garden supplies and the soil in the vegie patch is below par, fossick about in your garden to find the best soil on offer.

Never mind if the best soil is by a rose or a lemon or with the flowers, and never mind if it means dotting vegies all over the place rather than in a line or one bed together. Nothing wrong with emergency, random seedling planting. Its a common enough occurence around here.

Another option is to make an instant container garden for your winter crops, and greencrop your bed to give it some R&R.

The important thing is to keep planting so you can eat nourishing, fresh greens this winter.


  1. Lisa Wilkie says

    Kia ora from down here in the South,

    This is probably a silly question, but do you rinse the seaweed before apply it directly around plantings? I was worried about too much salt burning them…

    Also, the main seaweed on my local beach down here in Dunedin is kelp , I assume this is okay to use if it’s chopped up a bit?

    Thank you for your time 🙂

    • Not silly at all. I dont rinse and I’ve never had a problem. I do often read advice to rinse though – sorry to give so many options! Try either and see what rolls out. Kelp is the very very best. Lucky you! Chop it up for sure. I’d be making liquid feed with it too. Enjoy!

  2. Alan Tappin says

    Hi Kath,

    Can you send some of that soil up here?
    Even with heavy mulching and a lot of soil prep through spring we would be struggling to get consistently moist soil like that up here in Auckland as we havent had meaningful rain for about 2 months at least and are on tank water so have to be careful.
    We pretty much shut the garden down until about late march/early april as the summer crops are finishing and it gets a little cooler. Nothing newly planted would survive on our north facing slopes over this period as they get really hot & dry (well over 40deg) and the evaporation rates are 3-4mm per day so roll on April! Its hard enough keeping established trees alive.

    • How I’d love to share! I realise how priveleged I am in the Horowhenua – pros and cons – fungal issues galore with all our spring rain but at least we dont dry out. Its a whole other skill gardening without rain…sounds like you are finding your way. Have you come across Geoff Lawtons greening the desert? AMAZING! All the best Kath