Backyard Gardening: Putting the Garden to Bed

This post is a bit overdue, we put the garden to bed the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Given this year’s temperatures, we could have done it on New Years Day!

Putting a vegetable garden to bed in the fall isn’t truly necessary, but it makes things much easier in the spring.  It will allow you to plant earlier, when soil is still quite wet from melting snow.  Your garden will also look cleaner and more attractive to neighbors and housemates in urban settings.

Choosing the right time can be tricky, especially when first frosts are coming later and later in the season.  This year we had our first frost on November 2 in the city, leaving everything but chard and kale limp and dead.  These hardy greens, however, often get thicker sweeter leaves in the late cool fall, so I like to leave my garden intact until I’ve finished eating them all.  However, I also try to get my garden tucked away for the winter before it gets so cold that outdoor work becomes a painful chore.

Once you’re ready to unearth your veggie plant stumps and skeletons, gather a shovel, pruners, soil rake, a place to put your compost-ready plants, and some sort of mulch.  Leaves offer a free option, but these often blow away.  Salt march hay or straw (make sure it doesn’t have seeds) stay in place better and can be bought from a garden store.  First, pull out all your old plants, chop them up into 4″ pieces and put them into the compost.  Keeping compost additions small will ease in turning your heap.  Next, turn over your soil to kill any small weed plants and aerate your soil.  This is a good time to add completed compost or soil amendments so that everything will be ready in the spring.  Once you have raked your soil flat, add a layer of mulch over the top.  It can help to water the entire garden after mulching it to weigh down the mulch and keep it from blowing away.  Mulch will prevent weed seeds from sprouting early in the spring and will keep soil from blowing away or eroding during the winter.

We sifted completed compost out of the bin, re-layered its contents with our new dead plants, tilled the new compost into our garden soil, and mulched the garden with leaves in about 45 minutes!  Plenty of time was left for some pick-up basketball during the unseasonably warm late November weekend.

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