GROW: Garden Report - Winter Prep of Garden Beds

GROW: Garden Report - Winter Prep of Garden Beds
Vine maples explode with color in the fall.

Vine maples explode with color in the fall.

Autumn has been gorgeous here: temps in the 60s, sunshine and brilliant colors of red and yellow leaves on vine maples, cottonwoods, aspens and big leaf maples. How can you not cherish autumn?

The busyness of the harvest has slowed down but the kitchen is still in chaos: dehydrator on the counter, half-filled jars of dried apples and pears, applesauce in the slow cooker, roasted garlic wafting through the house, 20 lbs of more apples staring at me throughout the day, waiting to be processed. The Red Kuri winter squash is in the barn until the first hard freeze.  With no garage and no root cellar, I have to process a lot of what I grow and purchase.

Many of the culinary herbs are on their second and third growth and need a final trim before a hard frost happens. I apparently have a deer who has not read the Deer Eating Rules because I have found sage leaves that have been bitten off and then dropped on the ground. Those volatile oils are strong, aren't they? That's why deer are supposed to ignore aromatic herbs.

Though the harvest is mostly done (carrots, potatoes, brussels, kale and Asian greens are still hanging out in the beds), I am in the garden at least one hour on most days doing classic fall chores:

Planted three beds of garlic (contemplating a fourth...)

Garlic is easy to grow and easy to store.  The cloves will last for months in an unheated room or root cellar.  I don't dry garlic because I find it becomes harsher and bitter. 

Garlic is easy to grow and easy to store.  The cloves will last for months in an unheated room or root cellar.  I don't dry garlic because I find it becomes harsher and bitter. 

I love garlic! And it is one of the easiest plants to grow. If you plant hardneck garlic, you get a 2 for 1 benefit: garlic scapes (the flowering stalks of the garlic bulb) in the spring and then fresh garlic bulbs in mid summer. In the northern regions, garlic is planted in September, October and/or November, mulched and eagerly anticipated in early spring. There are many cultivars of garlic, and I like to plant a variety so I can experience the unique levels of sharpness and hotness as well as the different clove development. If you didn't grow garlic this year (from which you pick the biggest and undamaged cloves to grow for next year), you should obtain your garlic from an organic garlic grower but many of them sell out before the autumn planting season. If you can't find garlic from a grower or at your farmers' market, you can use organic garlic from the grocery store. Don't bother with conventionally grown garlic that is available in the grocery store because it's usually sprayed with a chemical growth inhibitor.

It's not too late to plant garlic. It does best in soil that drains well. After planting, cover the garlic bed with 2-3 inches of straw to protect from winter rain and snow.

It's not too late to plant garlic. It does best in soil that drains well. After planting, cover the garlic bed with 2-3 inches of straw to protect from winter rain and snow.

Moved 4 asparagus plants to another raised bed

I was gifted 12 asparagus crowns this spring but only had two beds available so I put four of the plants in a temporary bed. Asparagus is a perennial and benefits from a compost-rich soil. My 12 plants have found their permanent home, and I am looking forward to next spring to see how they produce.

12 asparagus plants in their permanent beds that have been heavily amended with horse manure.

12 asparagus plants in their permanent beds that have been heavily amended with horse manure.

Removed and composted dead/dying plant material & started another simple compost pile.

Removing plants is easier but messier if you wait until you have had a frost or two to weaken the plants. Did you have any disease in your garden? Infected plants, even after dying, can carry the disease into a compost pile. Diseased plant debris should go into a burn pile or burn barrel or into your garbage (the stuff that goes to a dump). Never put diseased plant debris in your compost pile.

Making compost is easy and there really is no reason to pay for the removal of your garden debris. I'm a lazy composter and you, too, can be a lazy composter. Check out my article.

Removed summer straw mulch on beds & reuse on paths

I don't need to remove the summer straw mulch but I like to add some composted manure to my beds each fall to improve the soil structure. I don't integrate the used straw into my bed because it often contains a certain amount of seed, and I don't want to grow hay.

Expanded squash bed using sheet mulch method

Fall is the best time build new beds. Sheet mulching is one way to create a garden bed but to be honest, the easiest way to create additional beds is to have a high-grade organic soil mix dumped onto your new bed. But organic soil mix is expensive and in my case, the delivery charge is $75 (somebody's gotta pay for the dump truck)! Using what I have available is how I built most of my beds: saved cardboard boxes (stripped of plastic tape and labels) are the first layer, used and/or fresh straw is the second layer, a thick layer of composted horse manure is next and then alternating layers of native soil and compost. I top it off with a thick layer of straw to protect the developing soil. The late Toby Hemenway, a permaculture expert and author of Gaia's Garden, has a great article on his website titled, How to Build a Bomb-proof Sheet Mulch.

The squash bed was made using the sheet mulch method: layers of horse manure, straw, compost and native dirt.  The straw-covered section is the extension I created this week. I am adding a thick layer of horse manure and then straw on the original squash bed section.

The squash bed was made using the sheet mulch method: layers of horse manure, straw, compost and native dirt.  The straw-covered section is the extension I created this week. I am adding a thick layer of horse manure and then straw on the original squash bed section.

Cast cover crop seed on cleaned beds (a little late but should show up in the early spring)

Cover cropping deserves its own post but I am still working on how to incorporate it into my garden beds since they are all in use until the first frost. Cover crops are also called green manure and are a powerful and affordable amendment to your soil. Toby Hemenway offers some detailed thoughts on cover crops in his article, Permaculture Cover Crops.

Hauling composted horse manure courtesy of Jade, my neighbor's horse

Penny & Jade have contributed significantly to my garden's soil and success.  

Penny & Jade have contributed significantly to my garden's soil and success.  

I am fortunate to live next door to my friends, April and Rick, who methodically compost their horse's manure and horse stall bedding. Avoid using fresh manure of most animals (llamas, alpacas and rabbits' poo can be used fresh). Don't consider a fall dressing of composted manure as a nutrient booster; the nitrogen disappears quickly and won't provide benefits to spring plantings. I add nutrients in the spring and throughout the growing season. This short article explains the basics of manure in the garden.

Mulching all growing beds with a thick layer of straw to protect the soil

For many years, I didn't bother with mulching my beds but when you read about the benefits of mulching and then look to nature for her ideas about protecting the soil with layers of dead plant material...well, it's a no-brainer to join the Mulch Revolution. The many benefits of autumn mulching are outlined in this article.

Use straw, compost or chopped leaves as a mulch. Don't use rotted hay as it has viable seeds in it and you will be pulling hay grass out of your beds in the early spring. 

OTHER PROJECTS: 1) Lining the paths between beds with cardboard and the free mulch from the county's tree trimming work this summer. 2) Extending the two hugelkultur beds (worthy of a post). 3) Dreaded greenhouse clean-up...ugh.


 

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