Settling in for the winter

I feel the same way at the end of every summer; not ready to accept that winter is on it's way.  Once I move past that feeling, I begin to look forward to the change of seasons.  Turning back the clocks this morning was yet another reminder of the change of season and change of pace.  Fall is in full swing and winter is just around the corner.  Time to snuggle up and settle in until spring.  But before that, I must ask: have you gotten your garden ready for the winter?

This week I've turned my attention to the garden, in the few dry days we've had.  There are a several things I like to do in the fall.

1. Plant garlic, onion sets, and shallots - If you haven't already planted these, it's not too late!  These are wonderfully easy winter crops to grow in the Pacific Northwest.  Just pop them in the ground and walk away.  Garlic is one of my favorite things to grow!

2. If you haven't already done so, pull out your summer crops and plant cover crops - Those heat loving plants have officially lost their summer heat.  It's time to fill that space with cover crops.  There's still time to plant fava beans in November.  One benefit of fava beans is they can be a great cover crop or food crop.  To use them as a cover crop, chop the plants down before they flower in the spring to prevent them from taking up nutrients from the soil.  For a food crop, let the plants keep growing and harvest the fava beans. 

3. Plant trees, shrubs, and perennials - Throughout the summer, I observe my garden and make note of plants that would be happier in a different location.  Once the rain starts again, I take advantage of a dry day to transplant perennials and occasionally I move young shrubs too.  Fall is a great time to plant because the winter rains help the plants settle in and establish their root systems before the hot dry days of summer.  Remember to avoid working in the soil when it's wet.  Wait for a dry day (or preferably a couple in a row) before digging.

4. Mulch your garden beds - A nice layer of mulch does a lot for your garden beds.  A few benefits of mulching are: prevents the rain from compacting the soil, keeps the soil warmer in the winter, minimizes weeds, and adds organic matter to your soil as it breaks down.  I like to use wood chips around my trees, shrubs, and perennials, and straw for vegetable gardens.  Throughout my garden, I make a habit to "chop and drop" so I am constantly returning the spent plant material to the soil.  It's just what it sounds like, chop the plants into smallish pieces and drop them right back into the garden.  This is a great way to always have mulch in your garden, quickly build your soil, and compost in place (although I like to have a compost bin going at all times too).

5. Expanding your vegetable beds?  Fall is a great time to start building your soil for spring.  Whether your new veggie bed is a raised planter box or right in the ground, sheet mulching is a quick and easy way to get your soil ready in fall for planting in spring.  Sheet mulching is basically layering organic materials and letting them break down in place, creating a rich soil.  There is no wrong way to sheet mulch, just use what organic materials you have.  I sheet mulched right on top of the grass to create my veggie garden.  I started with a couple overlapping layers of cardboard, then added layers of partially composted chicken manure, wood chips, coffee grounds (check with your local cafe for free grounds), and topped it all with a 3-way soil blend.  The soil blend allowed me to plant in the new garden right away.  Other great materials to use: newspaper, straw, manure, stable bedding, soil amendments, chopped vegetation, and compost.  A couple tips: 1 - your sheet mulch should be 12-18" high when finished (it will sink and settle as it breaks down).  2 - water between layers (it's easier to water as you go than to try and soak it all from the top later).

Now that your garden is settled for the winter, it's time to bundle up and relax with a book and a hot cup of tea.  If you can't get into that juicy romance novel and instead you're still daydreaming about your garden, it's never to early to start planning for next summer.  Pull out your seed catalogs, search for garden photos online, or reach for graph paper and a pencil.  If you find you need help with your garden planning, I'd love to hear from you.  Contact me to set up a design consultation.

What do you do to prepare your garden for winter?  What are you daydreaming about for your garden next year?