The first hard frost has hit, wiped out the garden, and its time to call it quits for another year. As you put the garden to bed for the winter, remember that the goal in the garden is always to feed the soil. By that, we mean feed the microbial community that lives down under. They are key to growing everything wonderful. We want to give them as much energy as we can during the long cold winter months.
We close down our beds as early as September when the summer crops are all harvested. However, if there is time, we will plant a fall cover crop of fava beans to help set nitrogen in the soil. This past year as the lettuce bed emptied out in early September, we added AZOMITE, a re-mineralizing supplement, to the bed. Then we covered it with compost, planted fava beans, and covered that with a thin layer of straw to keep the new seedlings cool as September is still pretty warm. It is now October, the seedlings are about 4 inches high, and we’ve had our first hard frost. The fava beans will eventually winter kill, but not until they have introduced some much needed nitrogen to the soil.
There are garden beds that will go a little longer into late fall and sometimes early winter with a little mulching. Carrots, radishes, garlic, leeks, celery, and parsnips are cold tolerant and will be OK through light snowfalls and freezing temperatures. Those beds should still be cleaned up as far as weeds go. A good mulch of leaves or straw will help those veggies survive until you harvest them. One year we heavily mulched some carrots and continued to harvest them right through the snowy cold months of December and January.
Tomatoes, beans, sensitive herbs like basil, squash, and cucumbers need to be pulled up. Freeze, dry, or cure and store whatever produce is ripe at that time. Green tomatoes can be encouraged along and will continue to ripen. Make sure you clean all leaves and plant debris off of the bed. By not cleaning up the bed completely, bugs – like the squash vine bug – that are specific to some plants have a place to overwinter and will be more devastating the next year. Diseases are also promulgated through infected leaves, so clean them all up. If you had a disease in your plants do not put them in the compost pile. Burn them or dispose of them some other way.
Because we are mindful of the microbial community, we have chosen not to till. Here is my recommendation on putting the garden to bed for the winter:
1. clear all plant debris off of the bed and out of the area.
2. Destroy diseased plants and plant leaves.
3. Remove any rocks that have surfaced.
4. Add AZOMITE to the soil.
5. Add crushed eggshells if you have some.
6. Load beds with a thick layer of leaves
7. Cover leaves with compost.
8. Spray beds with Bio-N-Live product. (food for the microbes) This is certainly optional, but it does specifically provide food to the microbial community.
9. Lightly water
Those beds that we have planted cover crop in get covered in leaves at this time of year and then a layer of compost as well.
In the spring you will be pleased to see almost all the leaves have been turned into soil, the earth worms are alive and well, and the soil is light and airy.
Re-mineralizing the soil in the fall seems a big waste, but you are actually feeding the microbial communities in the soil too, which is very important as you put the garden to bed for the winter.