How to Winterize your Garden

Written by a Pharmer at Applecreek Farms

For the sake of this discussion we will begin with the ending... 
So you've brought in your beautiful, bounteous harvest and you're on your way to the islands to recharge for the upcoming year. Before you depart for beaches undiscovered you may want to take some precautions to ensure that when you return home you'll be in the best possible shape to do it all over again for the next season.

Start by doing a complete and thorough cleanup of the growing area. Pull up all stumps and rake up any remaining vegetable matter. This material should be gathered and put on a burn pile for disposal. Remove and gather all excess material like tape, string, stakes, and any other leftovers and dispose of properly. Once you've completed the steps above, it's a good idea to wait for a strong cold snap to ensure the ground is good and frosty. If you rototill the soil while it's in this condition, you'll be able to more easily expose any eggs or pupae that might be hiding underground, allowing the frost and freezing temperatures to kill them off. It also will make for a more inviting spot for birds to come and assist you in clearing out any unwelcome eggs and pupae that remain.

Allow a day or two to let the cold weather and birds do their thing, and then apply a thin layer of compost or your favorite high-nitrogen fertilizer across to the top. This will help the cover crop, and add extra nutrients back into the soil that may have been depleted by the previous season. 

At this point, there are two possible ways to go, depending on your growing preferences. Some folks like to plant legumes or clovers as a cover crop, which allows for beneficial bacteria to flourish until you're ready to plant your primary crop. The cover crop will eventually be tilled into the soil for the next season. Adding a thick layer of mulch (approximately 3"), will help the cover crop to establish itself during those cold winter nights, and using a ground cover (like Remay garden blanket) to cover the seeds will keep pesky birds from getting to them. 

If you'd rather not plant a cover crop, simply apply a very generous layer of mulch like wood shavings, well-rotted leaves, sawdust, or shredded newspaper. This will ensure that that your soil will be getting the nutrients it needs, helping to replenish what was lost during your last grow. 

Whether you use a cover crop or not, using mulch is the key. Make sure your soil has plenty of it to last through the winter (while you're off vacationing on the beach), and you can ensure that you'll be ready for next season. Come spring, all you'll need to do is rototill the winter mulch and/or cover crop, and voilà! You're ready to begin anew. Remember to always keep it simple. Enjoy!

Bonnie Sherr