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The Turning of the Seasons; The Turning of the Garden Bed

How to prepare your garden for restoration this winter
by Emily Petersen, Community Garden & Education Manager

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September has finally drawn its curtains and let the beautiful October shine through with the reds and oranges of the majestic sugar maples. Yet with all its glory comes the early whisper of the coming cold season, a time of dormancy and rest for many life forms. The tall sunflowers that stood guard over the Earle Street garden have now served their final role as feed for birds and squirrels. The blossoming dahlias and zinnias that lifted the aisles of the West End garden have begun their heavy-headed descent and the graceful corn stalks over on Affleck Street have turned brown and barren. It’s that time of year that most gardeners are starting to cut back the slowed stalks and prepare the soil for rejuvenation until spring’s first planting.

Putting your garden to rest for the winter is mostly a matter of cleaning up and giving your soil a little spa treatment. It’s a good time to do this now because the weather is still warm enough to get all the pesky remaining roots out of the soil, and there’s still time before the frost to plant cover crops if you choose to. Why should you be sure to prepare your garden bed for winter? Well, if you leave the old stalks of your vegetables in the ground, they can become homes for insect eggs and disease pathogens during the winter. This can cause a whole new set of problems for your garden in the spring. Here are a few tips for turning your vegetable garden bed:

  • If you’ve planted things like carrots, leeks, parsnips, radishes, and turnips in your garden, you may still be able to harvest these well into November. Be sure to mark where they are planted with a stake so you don’t accidentally pull them up as you’re cleaning.
  • Remove other annuals such as your tomato, squash, pea, and bean plants and either compost them or put them in your yard waste.
  • Clear out as many weed as you can and gently till the soil to eliminate any remaining weed roots and harmful insects who may have been trying to build a home in your garden for the winter.
  • To cover your plot for winter you have two options:
    • Add a generous layer of leaves, compost, or manure and mix these in with the soil. This is the favored covering method for raised bed gardens. In addition to providing carbon-based nutrients for the soil, this layer also serves to block out possible air-borne pests and stifle winter-growing weeds. If you choose to use leaves, you might consider covering the layer with a simple netting so the leaves don’t blow away.
    • Sow a cover crop such as winter rye, crimson clover, oats, annual ryegrass, or legumes. Cover crops absorb vital nutrients in the soil that would otherwise be lost due to winter erosion. This is especially relevant for in-ground plots as opposed to raised beds which don’t suffer from too much erosion. The roots continue to massage and break up the soil throughout the winter, increasing its health and aeration. You will till these cover crops into the ground late winter/early spring when you begin to prepare your bed for spring planting.

Many gardeners develop their own special tricks to prepare their gardens for the winter months, experimenting from year to year with what makes their soil healthiest for the next season.

 

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