How to put your garden to bed

Just last weekend, I had the opportunity to take my very first Seattle Tilth veggie gardening class. It was awesome! It really hit me that I truly love gardening, actually love it so much that I get amped up talking about the soil ecosystem. I know I’m excited about something when I actually arrive early, and it did not disappoint.img_5862

I chose to take this class “Put Your Garden to Bed” because I always struggle with actually knowing when to call it quits and how to make the most of my garden during the winter. This class provided a plethora of knowledge, but to keep it simple, check out my key takeaways specific to a garden in the Pacific Northwest.

Soil is everything. I have said it before and I will say it again and again, the health of the soil ecosystem directly correlates to the health of the plants. Healthy soil is full of organisms that convert organic matter and compost into nutrients for plants. It is important to continue to build this ecosystem in the winter months. All of the takeaways listed below are recommended with the end goal of maintaining and building healthy soil through the winter months.

Remove warm season crops, keep cool season crops. This was my biggest question going into the class, which vegetables do I need to finish harvesting and remove and which ones can I continue to grow through the winter months?dsc_0025

  • Remove: warm season crops such as beans, tomatoes, squash, peas, basil, peppers, cucumbers, celery, and onions. These need to be harvested and removed as soon as possible in order to seed a cover crop, garlic, and/or shallots.
  • Keep: cool season crops such as kale, lettuce, leeks, beets, and carrots. These are much easier to keep if you protect with floating row cover or a hoop house + row cover. Also, it is important to continue to harvest these cool season crops and not let them sit in the dirt the entire winter as they could rot due to the increased wetness.

Remove any plants that have disease. If you have a plant with a disease, you need to completely move this plant off site. If you live in the PNW, this means to put it into yard waste and not a compost pile. Take it off the property.

Plant a cover crop. This is the money maker! Remember how “soil is everything”? Cover crops not only protect the soil from the impact of the rain, but they inject organic matter and nutrients into the soil, while also hosting a bacterial ecosystem during months when this can become dormant. The best part, cover crops are so easy to plant!

Like anything, there are a million different types of cover crops for different goals, check out this list. However, to keep it simple, just find a soil builder mix, basically a blend of cover crops, and sprinkle this on your soil. Cover with some dirt, water, and let it grow.

dsc_0035About 4 weeks before you plant your spring vegetable seeds, you need to chop back the cover crops and put them into the soil. Basically, use a shovel to chop them up and turn them into the soil. If possible, cover with a burlap sack so that the cover crops compost faster, injecting an abundance of organic matter and nutrients into the soil. Yay!

Plant garlic, shallots, and fava beans. You can grow a few vegetables in the winter months. You need to get these in the ground now. Check out this post about planting garlic.

Mulch. Your warm season and diseased crops have been removed, your cover crop and garlic, shallots, and/or fava beans are planted. Now, you can add mulch to help keep soil temperatures a little warmer. There are several types of mulch, learn more here. I plan to use straw to protect my cool season crop and garlic. you do not need to use mulch on the cover crops. dsc_0027

There you have it, your checklist for wrapping up the garden season and making the most of your garden during the winter months. It is best to do all of this now, in the month of October. So get to it!

My last takeaway – take a class at Seattle Tilth. From veggie gardening to composting 101 to making herbal salves, there is something for everyone. It is always a good time to learn and try something new.

Check out this Crimson Clover cover crop sprouting between tomato plants. dsc_0032

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2 thoughts on “How to put your garden to bed

  1. Hey Girl! Ok, a few questions about mulching because I am also fascinated by dirt ecosystems and have long wanted to use straw: 1. I’ve heard you need to be careful with the specific kind of straw mulch you use so that it isn’t mixed with weed seeds from things like hay (read about it here: http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/vgen/straw-mulch-for-vegetables.htm) that said, have you found a good place locally to buy your rice or wheat straw? 2. The above article also talks about not letting straw get too close to the stems of plants to avoid fungal growth – did Tilth mention that in regards to using straw in the winter vs summer as mulch? For my flower garden, I have generally used non-diseased tree leaves as mulch in the winter – do you know if that would work for veggies, too? Man – I LOVE your blog 😉 XOXOXO

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  2. Such great questions!! First, I totally hear you on finding straw that is not mixed with weed seeds. I am a little nervous about it, but going to take a chance. I am planning to pick up some straw from Walts, right here in North Seattle. They have an article about their available straw and specifically note “In our opinion, it is quite clean of seeds.” Check it out here: http://waltsorganic.com/straw-mulch-in-fall/
    At the class, Seattle Tilth said to be sure to get straw, not hay, in order to avoid seeds.
    No mention of the fungal growth from straw getting to close to the veggies. The pictures in the post show how close Seattle Tilth put the straw next to the veggies, but could be a good question for the folks at Walts. I will let you know if I learn anything. I think non-diseased tree leaves could be a great idea if you use them as “Sheet Mulching”. This may be a little more time consuming than using straw, but it builds healthy soil because you are using organic materials, like leaves. Also, with flowers, we talked about literally trimming them back and just leaving the trimmings around the flower as a “mulch”. Thanks for keeping me on my toes!!

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