Saturday, November 15, 2008

Putting the garden to bed for the winter

Jess asked me for ideas on putting the garden to bed. If there is one thing that I don't need much encouragement to talk about it is gardening. ;-) So...why not do a whole post on winter garden prep?

I'm sure there are as many methods of this as there are gardeners. I've gone through various stages myself. I used to pull everything out, compost it, and leave the soil bare with the plan of tilling in the spring. When I made this garden I decided on raised beds and no more tilling; I felt it was damaging to the soil. For several years I would leave some things in the garden as shelter and food for animals (and I still leave some sunflowers) and then just start a new compost pile with those things in the spring. A few years ago I discovered that the mulch that I was using to keep weeds down and soil moist all summer also protected my soil all winter and made it harder for weeds to sprout in the spring. I'm all about not having to deal with excess weeds so I decided to become more of a year-round mulcher.
Now I collect grass clippings and bags of leaves from my neighbours (all year) and use them to mulch every bit of each garden bed. (those garbage bags you can see in the photo are full of neighbours' leaves) The soil stays protected, the worms are happier (you know I like a happy worm), the soil is improved as this protective layer breaks down and, come spring, there are no weeds popping up on my beds. Mulching makes gardening easier for me. It's that simple. answer your questions, Jess - I do put all my plant waste in the compost at the end of the growing season (except for the very thick main stems of my tomato plants and sunflower stalks. Oh what I would do for a shredder). I don't dig up or break up my soil anymore because it is in beds and stays quite loose. I just keep piling on more mulch to add more organic matter and the worms loosen up the soil for me (I haven't used a tiller for at least 8 years). When it is planting time I will just nudge some of the mulch (that hasn't broken down) aside and plant my plants. It's a win-win-win situation. For some things - like lettuce or carrots- I do still clear away the mulch so that the seeds can sprout more easily but most things do well with the mulch all around.

Hope that helps. Have fun. One of the things that I love about gardening is that the garden tends to be a very forgiving teacher - there really is no right or wrong in the garden. You know?
Now I want to get out there and use up those last bags of leaves. ;-)


Jess said...

ah, thank you SO much!
this garden (it's really just two flower beds in front of the house from which we rent an apartment) isn't in raised beds, so I might do a little breaking up of the soil, but the mulch is a great idea. I should scour the neighborhood for bags of leaves.
I would love less weeds in the spring - especially those wild onions!
also, thanks for saying that the garden is a forgiving teacher, it's good to hear that, since I'm basically making it up as I go - planting different things, trying different techniques. This summer was only my second year trying to grow anything.
so again, thank you for the information!

Tara said...

Aha! My husband and I are new to gardening. We are killing off land in our back lot this winter to make a vegetable garden in the spring. I want raised beds, he's arguing for tilled beds. I'm going to show him this... thank you

Mel Mazz said...

This is very pretty! Would love to be able to see the picture larger (not sure how you would do that). What did you use to make your beds (type of materials, corner brackets?) I garden in the city in some oddly shaped space, so I've mostly been using earth boxes and the ground where I can, but I am scheming to come up with some space for some small raised beds! After all, Spring is just around the corner!