Unlike many gardeners, I actually love the beginning of winter. Yes, there are some jobs that need to be done in the garden - we can get to those later. But it's also an opportunity to curl up in front of a warm fire with a perfect excuse to stay indoors (if you happen to live in a part of the world where it's cold, dark and raining!), consider what worked and what didn't over the past gardening year, and begin to plan what you'll try next year.
At the end of autumn my husband usually finds me surrounded by gardening books, seed catalogues and sheets of paper, sketching out my vege garden for the coming year and looking for new varieties to plant which will survive in our very humid summer. This is also when I canvas the kids to see what they'd like to try growing - I find they tend to help out in the garden more when they have some input!
This is the part of the gardening year when you can take your time to work out what to plant, when, and where. You can take your time to work through what companion plants go together, what size your plants will grow to, and how to ensure they have enough, or not too much shade, depending on their requirements. You have the luxury of choosing what you actually want to plant, rather than grabbing whatever is left at the garden centre along with every other spring gardener! Whenever I tend to jump straight into planting my garden without this planning stage I end up with crowded areas and gaps, and am invariably late getting my seeds into the ground as I get caught up in all the other jobs that need doing.
This is also a good time to have a look at your soil. If you've grown a couple of crops over summer then it's likely your soil will be depleted and need a bit of a nutrient top-up. Whip out the remains of your summer plants, which are probably looking fairly yellow and sorry for themselves at this stage. It's also worth testing your soil's acidity - this is easily done with a soil testing kit from your garden centre - so see if your soil needs some particular attention. There are some great ways to add organic matter back into your soil without resorting to chemicals. Sowing a green manure crop is one option, but to be honest I tend to find this a bit too much work. You can also dig in well-rotted animal manure - just make sure you leave your soil for 2-3 months before planting. I tend to dig in a good pile of compost from my compost heap and worm farm to feed the soil, making sure you dig deep to integrate the compost and aerate the soil as you go. I then only have to wait 2-3 weeks before I can begin planting my winter crops.
Finally, spend a weekend having a look at your supplies. I tend to give my tools a good clean, empty out and wash my pots and spray bottles, and see what needs replacing. I find winter is a good time to visit the garden centre to replace any of those tools that are past their best - there can be some good sales on and you can find the odd bargain.
And once that's all done, it's back in front of the fire with the gardening books, enjoying a well-earned glass of wine.