Putting the Garden to Bed

Tom Tomas

Most garden crops have been harvested by now, and the garden is ready to put to bed for the winter. Spent plants and weeds can be put into an over-winter compost pile. Areas with problem perennial weeds can be worked one more time and left to mellow over winter. Leaves can be used to mulch root crops like carrots, parsnips and beets for winter harvest.

Fruit trees, grape vines and bushes should be watered well if the soil is dry. If your garden is not rabbit proof, it is a good idea to place a ring of chicken wire around the trunk of each fruit tree now. This will protect the trees when the snow falls and the bunnies are looking for a meal of tender bark.

It is also the time to put the garden into beds for early planting next spring. I like to prepare beds about three feet wide by eight inches high by spading in decomposed mulch or compost and mounding the soil up toward the center of the bed. I leave the beds rough when I finish spading. The soil will absorb rain and catch snow through the winter, and the freezing and thawing will soften the clods by spring. I mulch the trails between the beds with leaves or hay so I don't have to walk in mud in late winter, when I begin to work and plant the beds.

The raised beds drain well and thaw out earlier than the rest of the garden. After a few warm days in late February, they are usually thawed and dry enough to rake the top few inches out into a smooth seed bed. I then plant lettuce, radishes, spinach or onion seeds, even though they will be exposed to more freezing and snow in the next month or so. This will not harm these hardy crops, and they will germinate when the soil is warm enough. In the next few weeks, as weather permits, I will plant peas and onion sets in other beds. In mid-March, I will plant beets, swiss chard and carrots.

By preparing the beds in the fall, I can take advantage of the first available planting days in late winter and early spring. During last year's wet spring, those beds were the only area I could plant as it was too wet to till the rest of the garden. I could also get right to the fun of planting without having to dig or till the garden first.

If you want to jump start your garden next spring, put it to bed, or into beds, this fall.

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