Every time I realize that fall’s around the corner, my thoughts immediately turn to, “Oh, crap.”
I know, I know, it’s the worst attitude ever, isn’t it?
It’s not so much the fact that winter’s coming (though that certainly lends itself to a sense of dread)—it’s more about the impending work of getting ready for winter.
However, I really do need to keep in mind that whatever I do for my beds in the fall, I’m prepping by making my life easier for the spring.
So it’s a really, really good thing winter’s coming, right?
Right. (Ha, ha!)
Prepping my raised gardens for winter
Last year, I made the mistake (and my gardening guru friend, Jody, confirmed this heinous but unintentional error of mine) of yanking all of my old, dead plants right out of my raised beds and throwing them into a giant heap into my compost pile.
Major no-no. I should have left the roots in! Why?
Let’s back up. We’ll get to that in a second.
To make your life easier, here’s a brief tutorial for caring for your beds at the end of the season (I promise, it really is easy!):
- Remove the tops of all of your plants left over from the growing season. Shred them by hand and toss them into your compost pile.
- LEAVE THE ROOTS IN THE GROUND. The roots decompose and aerate your soil, two very, very good things—trust me. (Or, trust Jody. She says organic matter is a great thing to have in your life.)
- You’re done!
There are actually two more things that are a teensy more complex that need to happen to be sure you’re ready for winter.
Add more Mel’s Mix
If you didn’t catch a previous post about Mel’s Mix, I’ll bring you up to speed.
Mel Bartholomew, the author of All New Square Foot Gardening, has a very special secret formula (he calls it Mel’s Mix) for raised gardens. And your job at the end of the season is to bring your soil levels back up because soil, like anything else that ages, it settles. Here’s what you need to do to top off your soil, and the amounts you’ll need. (Note: the amounts can depend on how much actual soil you’ll need, which is different for everyone. This will likely top off two 4’x4’ beds at 12 inches deep.):
- 1/3 vermiculite – 3.5 cubic foot bag (about $18 at Lowe’s, Home Depot or most garden centers)
- 1/3 peat moss – 3.5 cubic foot bag (about $8 at the above-mentioned stores)
- 1/3 blended compost (which basically means: use different types. Some common composts are poultry manure, green waste or worm castings. Buy a variety for about $2 a cubic foot from a garden center, or if you have your own compost, add it to the pile!)
Done topping off your very happy soil? Good for you. The best part about the next step is that you have two choices on what you’d like to do next. You can:
- Mulch, or
- Plant a cover crop.
The point of doing either one of these is to prevent losing soil nutrients and moisture to the air. Here are the benefits to each:
If you do mulch, you’re feeding the earthworms! Fallen leaves are a great mulch and protector for the coming winter months. They add nutrients to the soil and hold lots of water—and the best part? You likely have tons of them lying around from your yard’s gorgeous maples. (Handy tip: You can also put down a few layers of newspapers and then cover those with leaves—personally, this is my fav method.)
If you choose to do a cover crop, these also do wonders for your soil (they prevent moisture loss, suppress weeds, aerate with roots, etc.) Some options are clover, winter wheat, winter rye or Austrian winter peas.
No matter which option you choose, your raised beds will then be safely tucked in for winter and you’ll be much, much happier with yourself and your careful pre-prep once spring arrives.