Putting your Garden to Bed for the Winter
October 13, 2010
Hosted by Cristina Del Alma, Garden Goddess
For many of us, our vegetable garden beds have worked all spring and summer long producing great organic veggies. Its fall now and time to give back to your hard working soil so it’s ready for early spring planting and not left to advantageous weed seeds.
There are many ways to bed down your garden. Two easy ways are sheet mulching and planting a cover crop. Sheet mulching is covering your garden bed with compostable clean green and browns. Cover crops are crops that are sown not generally for eating but to renew the soil. Which to use is based on your convenience and what compostable materials you’ve got on hand.
Cover Crops or Green Manures
Cover crops are an excellent source of organic matter and nutrients. Certainly they are much easier and less expensive than commercial compost. There are a wide variety of cover crops to choose from but popular choices in the Pacific Northwest are fava beans, crimson clover, vetch and rye or a blended mix of these. All of these germinate well in our cooler soil temperatures.
Fava beans form a long tap root that is great for breaking up tight heavy soils. Crimson clover begins to mature in May and is easy to turn under. Rye makes a tick organic mat of fibrous roots that holds nutrients well and prevents erosion, but because of its fibrous roots it can be difficult to turn under. Having a mix of the cover corps provides the benefits of all. Early fall is the best time to plant these hard working green manures. They’re called green manures because in spring these are turned under the soil to add more organic matter and nutrients.
Wondering what to do with the mountain of spent crops in your garden? Spent crops can be chopped up and left on the surface of the soil or dug in just a bit to compost right in the bed. The spent crops can be supplemented with cuttings from your landscape such as lawn clippings, fall leaves, flower or border trimmings that are smaller in diameter than your little finger. Other organic materials might include spent coffee grounds or spent beer brewing grains.
Depending on how much organic materials you have available, you can pile it up right onto the bed from 6 to 18 inches high. Mixing the greens and browns speeds up the composting process. Keep the pile covered. Covering helps keep the larger critters out and the compost critters in. Birds, squirrels and rats love to come undo your work. Cover with compostable materials like burlap coffee sacks. The sacks keep your garden tidy while helping the dark loving compost critters come to the top of your pile. The sack itself will compost adding humus and nutrients to your soil.
Be Picky About What Greens To Use
A word of caution about the organic materials you use: DO NOT USE invasive weeds like bind weed, ivy, buttercup and quack grass nor weeds that have weed seeds. These will be very difficult to remove once established. Also on the DO NOT USE list are crops or plant material with diseases. Many of the diseases that develop in our vegetable gardens can harbor over the winter on the spent crops and further infest the soil where they’ll wait for next year’s crops.
Don’t have quite that much organic material available? Chop up what you do have and mix into the first 6 inches of soil, then plant a cover crop right into bed with the spent crop litter and soil. In early spring,turn it all under for a soil that will be richer in humus and nutrients.