putting the garden to bed

garden bed preparing for winter

garden bed preparing for winter

It has been a hectic summer.  At the beginning of the season we’d said – this summer we’re just going to take it easy and hang out in the garden. We sure spent a lot of time in the garden, but I’m not sure how well we did on the taking it easy part.

The past month has been spent madly harvesting, canning, drying, preserving, cooking, bagging, freezing and eating the spoils from the garden. It has been incredibly gratifying and completely exhausting. I have one, maybe two, more batches of tomatoes to can and a couple of bags of peppers to string up to dry and that will be the end of it.

It will not be, however, the end of the work in the garden.

If you’re anything like me – by this point in the gardening cycle you’re ready to curl up on the couch with the cat and some knitting and not so much as look at another weed for at least 6 months. Unfortunately this is no time to succumb to the couch. My garden needs my attention for just a little while longer.

Preparing for winter is just as important as preparing for spring. A little work now will save us lots of grief down the road. This is the time to get ahead of pests and disease and make sure your soil has everything it needs for another fantastic summer.

We took advantage of some cooler fall weather to start to pull out the tomatoes, the beans and what remains of the various squash. Nothing goes to waste in our garden and this process was no different. I pulled and piled the mountains of veg onto our little patch of lawn and my fiance took the lawn mower to them. Worked like a charm, as long as we went easy. Presto – nutrient dense mulch. Back it went into the beds.

After only a week of letting the mulch sit, when we went out early this past Sunday morning to turn it under, already the soil beneath was thick with worms. They were giving me a head-start on incorporating all that organic goodness. Perfect. I’ve heard lots of ways to test your soil fertility, but the best one I’ve come across is to just look for worms. The more worms, the healthier your soil. I’ve never had our soil tested, but based on the performance of our tomatoes in relation to our worm count, I’d say they’re a pretty good indicator that we’ve got some darn good soil.

There is something satisfying about ripping all this greenery out and that kind of surprised me. We have spent the summer enjoying our own little edible eden, I would have thought I’d be sad to bid it adieu for the season. Instead, tearing it out and covering it up just feels – right. To everything there’s a season, isn’t that what they say? After the chaos and abundance of the summer it seems only natural to tuck the garden in, under a thick blanket of soil-soothing cover crops, and to retreat into the the early darkness of fall afternoons and the stillness of winter storms.

To do list for preparing the garden for winter:

  • harvest the last of your goodies; compost, give away or preserve whatever you can’t eat
  • pull all the spent plants; compost them or chip them for mulch (don’t compost anything that has been sick or diseased)
  • do a good weed
  • cut back perennials
  • plant spring-blooming bulbs (daffs, tulips, crocus, iris, snow drops etc.)
  • plant garlic (early October is ideal in the Pacific Northwest, more on this later)
  • plant a cover-crop / green manure in your beds (more on this later, too)
  • drain your hose and turn off your outside taps if you expect to freeze
  • tie up and/or wrap in burlap any shrubs that might be vulnerable to wind or snow
  • mulch, mulch, mulch!

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