Most folks don’t really think of preparing garden beds for the winter when nothing grows, but reputable sources suggest that getting the garden ready for winter is actually quite beneficial. For the most part, however, this isn’t to plant things (though some bulbous plants like to spend winter in the frosty ground) but rather to put the garden to rest. Just like us, the soil needs a little, snuggly break for the holiday season.
Of course, there are many options for gardening right on through the cold and flu season. There are indoor container gardens. There are greenhouses. There are cold frames, that act like little miniature greenhouses. But, for the general outdoor garden – the one that is left to survive the climate as is – there are few things to get done before calling quits for the year and digging into those lovingly canned veggies. So, get the coat for one more soiree with the to-do list.
Mulch With Leaves
Just in time to add some warmth and nutrients to the soil, trees have dropped their leaves over autumn. Once the last harvest is in, it’s a good time to rake some of those leaves up, shred them with a lawnmower (or shredder if there is one), and put a good layer of leaves over the garden bed. It’ll attract earthworms, keep the soil life healthy, and put the soil to rest by preventing anything from trying to grow.
Get Some Compost on the Go
Leaves are aplenty, usually much more than is needed for mulching, so the rest of them can go into getting some fast-acting compost on the go. Again, shred them (this speeds up the decomposition and prevents matting), and this time layer them with puts of nitrogen-rich elements, like freshly cut grass, green garden garbage, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds or manure. This will need to be turned a few times to keep things hot and heavy, but it’ll mean a great batch of compost come springtime when it’s needed.
Plant a Ground Cover
If there is time (no snow), many wise gardeners plant a cold-hardy groundcover. This will provide a nitrogen for the soil, especially nitrogen-fixing plants like hairy vetch, crimson clover and winter field peas. Basically, the keeps the garden eco-system going for as long as possible, and it is a way of giving back to the garden rather than taking. These plants are grown simply to be chopped down and fed to the soil as “green manure.” It’s how sustainable gardens work, by constantly provided the soil with replenishing organic matter.
Look Out for Perennials
A good permaculture garden is full of perennial plants because they are productive for years rather than just one season. They are also less demanding of the soil, and they replenish with fallen leaves and branches. So, we need to take care of them. Young sapling trees could perhaps get a stake or snow fencing for support. Other plants might die back, get pruned and/or need a good lot of mulch to prevent the soil from freezing too hard. Some people even go so far as wrapping tree trunks in blankets to protect them from sun scald and hungry rabbits. It’s important that these plants get some extra attention before having to endure the cold weather.
- Also, make sure to get any bulbs in the ground that need to be there.
Marking What’s There
Some plants — tomatoes, squashes, peas, beans — from the fall harvest should be pulled, especially if diseased. If they are disease free, use them in the leaf compost. Other vegetables, however, can be left in the ground for a while longer. Put long stakes in the ground to mark where carrots, garlic, parsnips, leeks, radishes, turnips, and so on are, and they can be harvested into early winter. If there is snowfall, the stakes will show where to dig find the food.
Prep Tools and Machines for Freezing Temperature
Remember, things are about to start freezing, and frozen water expands, which can cause some serious damage. Be sure to empty out hose pipes very well, to not leave water in buckets, drain fuel tanks in lawnmowers. Also, it’s the perfect time to scrub down the tools before stowing them away, and it’s a good practice to apply a little vegetable oil to the metal to prevent rusting. Part of sustainable gardening is maintaining our equipment so that it lasts a long time and we don’t waste resources buying new things.
Do these things, and come spring, you’ll have a great head-start on growing a good, plentiful harvest.
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