3 Steps to Winterize Garden Beds
We had a great season for our vegetable garden this year. Something about being stuck home for 9 months... Aside from a couple of outliers (what the heck, peas?), we had a huge harvest. I had big plans to can and preserve our mountains of tomatoes and green beans, but it turns out that a household of 7 people can tear through pretty much anything edible. Each jar of tomato sauce churned out was gone within the week. At least they're eating their veggies, right?
With the frost officially here, and the last of the squash turned into soup, it's time to shut the garden down for the winter. Full disclosure, by this time every year, I am completely gardened out. I have no motivation whatsoever to do more work in the garden. So I made Kyle do it. Hey, I'm doing remote school. WITH 5 KIDS. I get all the excuses right now.
Really, prepping the garden beds for winter isn't that complicated. It is really important though, and it makes spring prep so much easier for next year. We've already gone through shutting down your lawn for the winter and a full fall checklist for your yard here. Here we'll go over the basics of shutting your vegetable garden down for the winter. There are tons of variations on the methods, but don't sweat it. There's a lot of flexibility and as long as you get some version of the basic steps down, it will make your life a lot easier in the spring. Even just one or two of the steps helps. Spring-you will thank fall-you.
Start by clearing out any plants that are left in the garden. Some veggies can be brought inside to ripen on the counter, like green tomatoes and almost ripe peppers. If you have perennial plants like egyptian onions, trim them back and weed around them. We let our chickens in the garden after the first frost to pick it clean before clearing it out. Cut any remaining plants off at the root. The roots will decompose over the winter and help to feed the soil for next year. The remainder of the plant can be composted, as long as they're not moldy or super rotten. If you have any weeds that took over, pull them out by the root system. You can do a quick turn of the soil now to loosen everything up, break up remaining roots, and make it a little easier to turn it in the spring. Finally, plant garlic bulbs and onion sets for next year.
Once the beds are clear it's time to add more nutrients into the soil. Adding them in the fall will give them more time to break down and work into the soil over the winter. We add some of our compost and a bit of organic fertilizer. The real magic though comes from the chickens. We (OK, Kyle again) thoroughly muck the chicken coop twice a year, in the spring and the fall. The used chicken bedding goes right into the garden. There's a ton of nitrogen in there and the bedding itself acts as a self-composting mulch layer. It's gross, but it's great stuff.
Finally, cover the beds with mulch to regulate temperature and prevent weeds. Temperatures can fluctuate pretty extremely up here, so covering the soil will keep plants from germinating or waking up from dormancy during a warm spell. If an area of the garden got completely taken over with weeds (we've all been there), you can lay a sheet of black plastic or a tarp down to fully kill off anything left over the winter. Any loose, insulating material will work for mulch. We like to use leaves because they're readily available this time of year and they can just be worked right into the soil in the spring as compost.
Three steps, super simple, pretty flexible, just takes a little time and muscle. We'd love to hear what you do to set your garden up for the winter! Drop us an email, or send us a message on facebook or instagram.