Monday, October 12, 2015

Closing the Garden

Hello everyone!  

Before we get into how to close your garden up for the Winter, I want to take a minute to ramble...

I've struggled a lot this Spring/Summer with the fact that I can no longer have a big garden.  My Asthma has gotten so bad that I just can't devote the time outside that the garden needs in the Summer time.  I won't lie, at first I was pretty angry about it.  I'm not a perfect gardener but I loved it.  It was awesome to watch the garden grow and progress over the months from seedling to produce.  Add to that the money saved at the grocery, the quality of fresh produce and the added benefit of fresh air and sunshine and it didn't get much better.  It was a somewhat bitter pill to swallow.  My husband, bless his heart, planted some tomato plants for me to be able to just go grab some fresh right before dinner.  

With my jam business, I was spending time at different Farmer's Markets a couple of times a month.  I would take a few minutes and wander around checking out things and talking with the other vendors.  I found wonderful produce, local cheese, flavored dried pastas as well as some other pretty amazing things.  We tried things that we wouldn't necessarily have tried had I been gardening and not taking the time to explore the various Farmer's Markets.  It took me a while to figure out how to "make the lemonade when I got the lemons handed to me" but I finally figured it out.  Talking to, and getting to know, the farmers helps you to figure out who really grows their stuff and who acts as a middle man for someone else.  You can learn about how things are grown, the processes used (organic or not, pesticide free or not, etc.) and where your food comes from.  It's fun, try it at the next market you visit.  You ARE visiting them, right???  LOL

Back to the garden...

A lot of people think that once your garden stops bearing produce that you're done.  You could be but if you take the time to "put the garden to bed" for Winter, you not only make your garden healthier but it sure does make the Spring easier to deal with.  Around here, it very well can be quite rainy and muddy in the Spring.  It's no fun to have to sludge through all that to pull last season's plants and get the soil ready for new plants.  There have been years where it is quite late before you can till the ground up.  Taking a little time right after the first good, hard frost will make the next Spring much, MUCH easier to deal with.

It's really not that hard to do either.  To start, just simply pull up any plants that remain in the garden, these will be great additions to your compost pile if you have one.  If you do have a compost pile, lay these spent plants aside for now, you'll add them to the compost pile later.  

Next, add some compost to the garden.  If you don't have a compost pile, you can buy it in bags or in bulk if you have a truck to haul it in.  This will add nutrients to the garden now and save you a little work next Spring.  Now, run the tiller and get the compost worked into the soil well.  This tilling also helps to eliminate some weeds in the Spring.  Personally, I'd go through at this point and rake it somewhat flat, if you're using border free raised beds (see the pic of how I used to garden in this blog post to see what I mean), rake the beds back into place.  At this point you can put the plants and things you pulled up into your compost pile, if you have one.

Then, you could plant "cover crops" like rye, clover, etc., but I have never done that.  I'll admit, it seems like a lot of extra work to prep the ground and plant something that I'm simply going to till under next Spring.  Since I've added compost to the garden before tilling it, I do something a bit different that does double duty in my opinion.  I cover the garden with straw, it's cheap and easy to toss on the garden.  In the Spring, you can rake it off the beds (or area you're going to plant in) and use it to cover walkways for the muddiness that tends to be Indiana Springtime.  Once Spring comes, it's nice to be able to go to the garden and rake away the straw and the garden is pretty much ready to start.

One final thing that I do is to review my Garden book.  If I haven't slacked over the course of the growing season, I've made notes that include what and how much of something I planted where (because crop rotation is important), what worked well where, if I had enough or too much of any one item.  I'll review these notes and make any additional notes or reminders for next year.  I know the book (just a spiral bound notebook for me) sounds silly, but I sometimes don't remember what happened yesterday let alone what happened with my tomatoes two years ago when they were planted near the fence.

Have a great day!

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