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Preparing my garden for winter

by Timber Press on November 7, 2011

in Gardening

 Marie Iannotti, author of the upcoming book The Beginner’s Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables, is our guest poster today. She is in the midst of preparing her garden for winter and shares her plans for the change in season. She writes regularly at About.com in the Gardening section

Fall is unpredictable in my area. Some years, we can have Thanksgiving dinner outdoors. This year we had snow for Halloween. So I start preparing my garden for the inevitable in September, when the vegetable garden starts its steady slide downhill. There are still some hidden treasures underground and I’ll leave many of the carrots, salsify and parsnips as long as I can. There’s a certain triumph in being able to defy nature and harvest at Christmastime. But unlike the flower beds, the vegetable garden clean-up can’t wait until spring.

There are two tasks that take priority every fall: removing debris and amending the soil. I don’t want to fight the same battles every year, so leaves and fallen fruits are all cleared out and anything with a spot on it is banned from the compost. Once the beds are clean, I top them with composted manure mixed with some tree leaves. The soil in raised beds seems to disappear during the growing season and although this organic matter feels coarse in the fall, by spring it will be rich, fluffy and ready for planting.

I’m blessed with a lot of fall leaves.  I used to curse them, but now I realize they are free fertilizer and I use them on everything. The first to fall get mowed and left on the lawn. The next batch gets shredded and tossed around the flower beds. They further disintegrate as the snows freeze and thaw them and prevent them from matting down on the soil. I save a few bags to work into the vegetable garden beds and the rest of the leaves get piled up to make leaf mold; a wonderfully scented, crumbly soil elixir.

Speaking of soil and not wasting anything, I wheel a giant garbage can into the garden in the fall and dump all my used potting soil into it. I’ll reuse it next year to pot up flowers, mixed with a little fresh soil and some fertilizer.

I put my vegetable garden to winter use by storing my potted containers in there. It’s empty, protected by a fence and by the time I need it to plant, the pots are ready to come out. I used to bury the pots in the raised beds, for winter. I’m getting lazy and now I just put them between the raised beds. Clustered together against the beds, they insulate each other. I add some wire fencing at each end and, once the ground has frozen, I cover the entire area with yet more leaves and wrap it with a roll of heavy plastic.

Clean and well fed, I can move my thoughts indoors and once again start ordering more seeds than I will ever find space to plant. The best part about winter is that anything seems possible.

Thank you so much, Marie! Be sure to read more from Marie at About.com.

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