Putting Your Garden to Bed
Fall is now in full force with crisp days and chilly nights. The only thing left in your garden beds is brassicas and greens. So what do you do with the rest of the empty garden beds? Well, it's time to put them to bed. Yes, pun intended, lol!
Putting your garden to "bed" is a way of letting the soil rest for the winter, but first, there are some things you need to do before you tell your garden night-night. I will make it easier to follow by putting my wintertime garden prep into steps.
We follow permaculture principles on our homestead. Using those principles means that each aspect of our homestead creates resources that are returned and become a part of the life cycle of creating a sustainable ecosystem/ homestead. The following steps are what we do and the techniques we use at the Wildwood Wonder homestead.
Instead of pulling your old plants out by the roots, cut the plant at the base, where it almost touches the soil. This way, you will not disturb the essential microorganisms living among the roots. Those roots will also decay, putting nutrients back into the ground.
After cutting down all your dead plants, cut them up into pieces and place them in your compost bin. Or, in the bottom of a raised bed, you are preparing for next year. When Spring rolls around, you will have extra soil and nutrients in those bins & beds!
*If you remove a plant because of disease, do not place it in the compost bin. You may also want to remove the roots from the ground, also, keep the root ball out of the compost.
Now is the time to add some amendments. Your soil worked hard for you over the Spring, Summer, and Fall, so now it needs an excellent mineral boost. Add a layer of compost about one-inch thick over your garden beds.
Here is what I do to my garden beds. I add the "clean out" of my quail cage for the front cottage-style garden. What is clean out? Over the Spring and summer, we add hay/straw inside the quail cage to keep the ground from getting too muddy, provide them with some nesting material, and become an absorber of waste, cutting down on smell and mess. By the end of Fall, all that wonderful carbon material is now a great compost full of nutrients. I use that as a top layering of compost in the garden that will continue to decompose over the winter and add organic matter to the soil.
*Rabbit mature is an excellent additive to the garden for winter too! It's a "cold" mature, which means it does not have to age before you put it into the garden.
Now it's time to mulch! You don't want to leave your garden naked for the winter. Imagine how cold she must be without any covers!
Straw/Hay: Since we buy hay/straw bails for all the animals, it's an available resource for me to use as a cover. I cover each bed with a good layer of hay which protects all the microorganisms and keeps moisture in, which is important on cold, windy days and helps to keep weeds down. And guess what?! By Spring, you will have a mostly decomposed material ready to create more soil!
*This is also the best option if you still have plants producing in the garden. Like your brassicas, kale, and greens!
Leaves: I also like to use layers of leaves in certain areas of my gardens. For me, leaves are abundant and free, plus a haven for all the little critter crawlies your garden needs to create a well-rounded ecosystem.
Shredded Paper: A shredded paper mulch might be a resource you have available to you. Both my husband and I have careers that involve using paper that is often shredded and thrown away after a while. Not to mention all kids the school papers that come home. We have a paper shredder for our use at home to take care of any paper products that would otherwise be thrown into the garbage. I love to use those tiny paper pieces in my raised bed garden on my patio. It's easy to use and perfect for salad and green beds where the plants are closer together. I will warn you that once it gets a good soak, it does stick together. This is great for well-established plants, but you don't what to have tiny seedlings trying to break through the matted-down paper shreds.
Cardboard: Cardboard can also be used as a covering. Remember, it will not break up as fine or quickly has other options. But you can always remove it in the Spring and throw it onto some garden paths and compost bins. (See my post all about cardboard here: )
*I use wood chips in pathways and around more extensive garden areas, around well-established fruit bushes and trees, but I do not use them to cover my garden beds for the winter.
Now you can sit back, relax, and let nature do its job! Get your garden plan out and start thinking about next year's garden!