The Victory Garden- To Winter Garden or Put it to Bed

Stand at your pantry door and take pride in what you’ve accomplished! Shelves of gleaming jars filled with colorful fruits and vegetables! Summer is winding down, grills are being stored away and the smell of #2 pencils is in the air. Is this the end of your garden? It doesn’t have to be!

You’ve been bitten by the food independence bug so let it take you through the fall and winter.

Hopefully, you’ve kept up with your succession planting and your fall greens are about ready to harvest for fall stews, soups, and salads. You recently put in your fall crops like cabbage and broccoli and they’re coming along nicely.

Start thinking about a few crops for next year. Fall is the time to plant garlic and different types of onions. They are brilliantly designed by nature to fend for themselves in the cold with just a light layer of mulch.  Other vegetables that will also do well if they are already established are carrots, beets, and turnips which actually become sweeter in colder temperatures. These can also be layered with a thick bed of mulch to protect them from a ground freeze.

If you have a greenhouse you are all set to continue a wide range of gardening throughout the winter but if not, there is still hope on a smaller scale.

Think about creating mini greenhouses or low tunnels to keep fresh greens growing all winter. Again, if you establish a few plants early enough you can keep them growing with this method.

Metal hoops are sometimes used to support row cover during the gardening season. If you can find these they are fairly inexpensive and work great! If not, a flexible PVC that can be bent into a hoop shape is the next best option. The downside to PVC is that it becomes brittle after a few seasons of weather exposure.

Next, look for clear, strong plastic sheeting or greenhouse plastic with UV protection at your home improvement store.  Place the hoops or the bent PVC down the row of plants such as lettuce, collards, kale, etc. and cover it with the sheet of plastic.  The hoops are support to keep the heavy plastic from crushing your plants. You can tack the bottom of the plastic into the soil using ground staples or even bent coat hangers.

The mini greenhouse you just created will help extend your harvest possibly throughout the winter as long as we don’t experience prolonged ground freezing temperatures. But remember, on days where the sun is very strong, be sure to open the ends of your tunnel to allow air to circulate and cool things down so you don’t burn your plants.

Another option is using straw bales around your plants to create a cold frame. Form a box shape around the plants and place an old window or piece of Plexiglas over the top. The straw will act as an insulator keeping your plants toasty and warm but, the same caution applies. If the sun becomes too strong, crack open the cover to allow air to get in.

Even if you decide to extend your season, most of your garden will no longer be in production so it’s time to put that area to bed for the winter.

Crop rotation, mulching, and adding amendments throughout the season have gotten you off to a great start but, 4-5 months of cold, wet weather can drain nutrients from your soil that you will want to replenish now.

The first step is to clean out the garden. If you had any soil born disease problems, you will want to remove, burn, and/or throw away those affected plants. Never put those in your compost pile. Once spent plants are removed your garden will benefit from another layer of compost and mulch which we discussed previously. Whichever type of mulch you choose just be sure it is free of weed seeds and chemicals.  After this layer is put down, it’s an added bonus to cover the area with a sheet of black plastic. The plastic will create a warm greenhouse effect that will kill off any early weed growth and create the perfect environment for earthworms that will break down the added organic layer and, aerate the soil. When you remove the plastic in the spring, your garden will be ready to plant with very minimal work!

Part 15 of The Victory Garden – Congratulations!