Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tucking the Garden In for Winter

Yesterday afternoon, on a perfect crisp fall day, I headed to the garden clad in jeans, work gloves and gumboots, toting the turning fork, hoe, rake and a bag of seeds. I got straight into that wonderful groove of physical labor and the ultimate feeling of satisfaction that I get from working in the dirt and encouraging things to grow.

This is what the garden looked like a few days ago:

(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

This is what it looks like today:

Having gleaned the last of the summer's vegetables from the plants, I pulled out all the vines and stems, leaving a few scraps in the beds to till into the soil. The rest went in the compost, with the bigger, woodier things heading for the yard debris bin. Then I turned my attentions to making our soil happy and healthy for the next round of crops. In places where everything had grown well this summer, I tilled in organic fertilizer and planted fall and winter crops (kale, spinach, radishes). In those areas that didn't fare so well this summer, I tilled in eggshells, compost and organic fertilizer and then planted cover crops. We'll let these grow for a couple months, then cut them and till them in and let them fertilize the soil that second way. This is the first year we've ever used cover crops, and we're starting off with field peas and fava beans, good nitrogen fixers that will also loosen up the soil with their roots and provide lots of foliage to act as green manure. Also, we can eat the fava beans once they are mature!

 Everything in this bed didn't grow particularly well, and all of the tomatoes planted here got blossom end rot. So this entire bed is now a mix of cover crops, with lots of extra nutrients mixed in.

 These are fava beans coming up in one of the rocky beds at the side of the house.

 Another bed at the side of the house, which was previously full of lovage. We pulled that all out and are growing field peas over the winter, hoping to make this into more vegetable space for next summer.

 This is where we'll be planting garlic. I spent a long time on this bed yesterday, working it with the turning fork and pulling out heaps of rocks and gravel. I'm really excited about how quickly the condition of the soil here is improving. Now that it's been tilled, we'll let it rest for two weeks, then turn it again and plant our seed garlic.

The leeks I planted a month ago, struggling in a patch of very compacted, rocky soil. 

Investing in our garden soil is very important to us---without good soil, you cannot grow good crops. As Joel Salatin says, "How dare you treat your soil like dirt!?" The soil we have here was compacted and rocky when we moved in, but slowly we are working to make it soft and aerated and rock-free and full of good nutrients. When we first planted our garden in late June, we didn't find any earthworms in the beds (never a good sign), but I'm really pleased to say that yesterday I found lots of worms in almost every bed. If the worms are happy, we're happy! 

I also inspected the compost heap yesterday, which is sitting and doing its thing for the winter, to be used in the garden beds in the spring. Happily, it is doing wonderfully (all that chicken litter!) and breaking down beautifully- it's going to be in great shape come spring.

Although I don't have photos of it yet, we're also creating new growing space around the front lawn. We tilled up the compacted soil border a month or so ago, and now every time I clean out the chicken coop, most of the litter and straw goes to mulch that border (with the rest going to the compost). I planted a few fava beans under the straw as a test, and they're growing very strongly, so I think I'll sow cover crops all around in that border as well to help break up the dense soil. In the spring, we'll till in the broken down mulch and plant potatoes all around our front yard! 

What are your tricks to preparing your garden for winter? Do you grow winter crops? Any favorites?

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