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If you prepare your vegetable garden for winter, you’ll have a much better spring garden. Fall garden clean up makes the following season more successful. It’s great to know for beginning gardeners and pros alike!
We use the no-till method of gardening and we garden in raised beds, but all types of gardens can benefit from a little fall preparation for the coming spring. Wintertime is still a time of activity in the garden.
What is no-till and why do we do it? No-till is a method using no-tilling and allowing the beneficial microbes as well as creatures that live in the soil such as worms, to aerate the soil for you by doing what they naturally do.
I chose no-till because it makes sense to me. I see God doing it in nature. Plants and trees grow themselves. If you go out into the forest and scrape back all the material that has fallen to the ground and laid there, you find the most glorious rich, light, good smelling soil underneath.
Preparing a garden for winter
I wanted to try it, and so far, I love it. When plants are spent at the end of their life cycle, we cut them off at the ground rather than digging them up. You can lay the tops on the soil if you like, I do this with healthy tops, but not anything with fungus or bugs infestations or anything like that.
Roots offer even more nutrients to the soil as they decompose and help keep the soil structure good as well. Some roots such as beans and peas actually have nodes of nitrogen attached to their roots which will give even more nitrogen to the soil than other roots.
When doing no-till, we just keep adding nutrients and organic materials to the top of the soil and build layers of soil rather than turning it over. The worms come to the top and move the organic matter through the soil for you.
The first thing we needed to do in our garden to prepare for spring was top off the beds that needed more soil. Over the wintertime, organic matter in the soil breaks down and rain and use compact the soil. The more inches of soil you have in your raised beds, the better, so if your soil is getting low, bring in some good quality compost to top it off.
Winter garden preparation
We ordered a truckload of soil from Gem Dirt in a town nearby. They deliver and their garden mix is over 60% compost. I didn’t want to open 1,000 bags of compost and waste all that plastic packaging.
And I wanted a source I could trust not to contain herbicides in their compost, so I chose Gem Dirt. The delivery was expensive as they had to drive several miles, but not as expensive as buying that much material by the bag at the garden store.
We have most of our empty beds topped off now but will continue topping off as we lose the plants that are still growing in this nice warm fall we’re having. Now that we had our first frost last week, we will be able to top off most of the rest of the beds. We have over 60 containers in our gardens ranging from half whiskey barrel size to 3 x 10 feet. Maintenance is a big project!
Once the material is added to the top of the beds, it’s time to mulch. We mulch in spring and summer anytime the soil is exposed, but in the fall when we put the gardens to bed, we mulch HEAVILY to keep the moisture in the soil over the winter. It keeps weeds from growing and keeps the beneficials happy. This year we are mulching with straw and dried leaves.
Make sure you are using straw and not hay, as hay will grow LOTS of grass for you. It still has the seeds from the grasses in it. With straw, we get a few pieces of wheat here and there, but it’s easy to pull and there is not a lot of it. When we run out of straw, we will finish with dried leaves we get from our friends and neighbors. Worms LOVE leaves and they work them into the soil for you over time as well.
You can mulch around small plants as well.
Preparing raised beds for winter
Then the only thing left to do is wait for planting time. When it’s time to dig the ground for planting, we slide the mulch to the side and we plant our seeds or seedlings. When plants are 4-6 inches tall, we replace the mulch back around the plant or add more mulch if it’s all broken down.
With all of this wonderful mulch in place when we start in the spring, the only other thing we have to do is occasional weeding if a seed has blown into the garden, watering, and fertilizing. When plants are growing in the beds, or garlic or something is under the ground,
We water the beds once a week with about one inch of water if we don’t get that much rain. About once a month we fertilize the beds with Annie Haven’s moo poo tea. You can order moo poo tea bags here.
It’s the only fertilizer we use. We order my tea bags in bunches and store them until we need them. How do we brew moo poo tea? We simply place the tea bag in a five-gallon bucket of water and wait 3-5 days.
Then we use the tea to water each plant and it gives it all the nutrients it needs. Our plants have totally taken off since we started ordering moo poo tea from Annie. We water in any new seedlings with it and soak my seeds in it before planting. The bags are reusable up to 3 times and then we compost them. No waste and great results!
Now is a great time to prepare your vegetable garden beds for winter and enjoy the rest!
For more info of when to do what in the garden, check out this month by month garden planting guide too!