Tips For Getting The Garden Ready For Winter
By Sierra Fleenor
School is back in session. A beautiful cool breeze has been creeping into the afternoon and evening. Can you feel it? It’s almost autumn. For your gardens, this means time for you to reap what you have sown. It also means time to start preparing for winter. Between pumpkin lattes (or pumpkin beers) take a little time to prepare your garden for next season. A little time now will set you up for a luscious and productive garden even earlier next year.
Saving the seeds
Did you grow an heirloom tomato this year that you adored? Or maybe you’re a fan of low budget gardening. One great way to cultivate your garden over the years is to save the seeds at the end of the season. Almost any healthy vegetable you grew this year can be the parent of next year’s crop.
Seed saving is easiest to do with dry plants, like beans or peas, where the seeds are separate from the flesh of the vegetable. You simply scrape the seeds from the veggie, place them in a layer on a glass dish and leave them near a sunny window for a week to dry.
For watery vegetables like tomatoes, place the seeds and the flesh connected to them in a wire mesh strainer and rinse. As you do so, the seeds should become separated out. For stubborn vegetables, you may need to allow them to soak for a bit. After you are able to separate the seeds dry them as described above.
Once your seeds are fully dried, store them in labeled envelopes in a cool, dry place. And there you have it, seeds for next year.
Extending the season
The other important aspect of planning for your garden is figuring out what you’re going to do with your beds over the winter. If you’re interested in growing cold weather crops, select a bed or two that receives ample sunlight in winter and set those aside for now. If you are eager to get things going, you can start adding compost to the bed and then put a good layer (six or so inches) of straw or hay down before the first frost.
Watch for another article in months to come about how to master cold weather crops. Meanwhile, if you are growing any hardy greens (kale, spinach, etc.), you may be able to extend their growing season by simply piling up some straw or hay around your hardy greens when the frost comes. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to have some fresh kale straight from your garden to add to your Thanksgiving dinner.
To put your other beds down for the winter, wait until production ends or the first frost kills your plants, whichever comes first. After removing dead plants and composting them (or cutting them off and leaving the roots to be composted), weed the beds thoroughly. Weeds tend to strip the soil of their nutrients, so you don’t want to let them grow over the winter.
Once the beds are relatively clear of weeds and dead plants, make sure you lay down a thick layer of mulch, straw, or hay. You can even use fallen leaves (a bonus for folks with big maples, elms, etc). This will protect your bed from losing soil or becoming compacted under the winter snow. Then when you are ready to plant next season, remove whatever insulator you have laid down and add compost.
If you’d rather put your beds to use over the winter, you can also plant a cover crop such as Austrian winter pea or a hairy vetch mixture. In this case, either till the greenery into the soil or throw it into your compost.
If you have any extra produce coming in, remember that you can donate fresh food to GPHC’s food pantry Monday-Thursday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 2823 Fairfax St.
Finally, we are looking for gardeners to join our Helping Hands network. Do you have an interest in helping Greater Park Hill neighbors garden? Do you have experience gardening or just have some helpful hands to loan? If so, send us an email and we’ll be in touch. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sierra Fleenor is the District 4 Representative for Greater Park Hill Community, Inc.