Planting in fall for winter gardening

Garden news – it’s not too late to get your fall/winter garden in.

I seeded a bunch of seed cells last week in special blend soil I make myself. This is composed of equal parts Peat Moss, Vermiculite, and compost. Then I planted the rest of the large enough seedlings to be moved as well. I had started lettuces, broccolis, kales, Swiss chards, and other various greens and root vegetables starting in August, through September and into October. As the summer plants were harvested or died out, the spaces in the garden were worked over. I save my kitchen waste, vegetable peelings and such, and dig them into the soil directly. I don’t till, but I make a trench about 4″ deep, spread out some kitchen waste that has been sitting in large cottage containers on my porch getting nice and mushy, then cover it with top soil, and add some soil or fine mulch on top. When the seedlings are ready, I add them to the empty spaces.

We had an early frost and I lost many of my tomato plants. Also, large areas of the garden were covered in squash plants which also died off. so those vines got cut up and put on the compost pile. The beans never did well this summer – too hot or too wet. So, the bean supports were also taken down. That area has been cleared of everything and I will be putting in either cover crops or deep mulch over the winter. The tomato supports were dismantled, the vines chipped in the chipper (they were quite dry), and those areas are now open awaiting more seedlings to come mature enough to plant.

Here at Hillside Gardens, we have two main areas of food production – the West side and the East side of the house. On the West side it is quite steep and because I had ankle surgery this summer, I am not inclined to walk or work on that part of the garden over the winter because it can be very slick footing. There the beds will be deeply mulched or cover crops of rye or clover will go in to add fertility for next year. On the East side, we have a large annual growing area which is fairly flat, and a food forest – orchard with beds below each tree or shrub also growing herbs, flowers and some vines for maximum use of the space. But that area is likewise quite steep.

The Food Forest area will be prepared with mulch and chicken poop as a top layer, trimmed and pruned as needed, and herbs harvested before the cold. In the annual area, there are long beds either raised with wood boxes or in-ground surrounded by cinder blocks with deeper soil than the food forest areas. Also, we have a row of tree sized planters also growing annuals. They are about half planted for fall now and as the crops in them are harvested we will be rotating other crops in.

My neighbor who has chickens has kindly let me have the coop’s production of chickipoo and wood shavings – 5 large industrial sized bags worth – for my garden, so that will be spread as a final mulch before we have cold set in. The chicken poop would be too high in ammonia to dig into the soil until well composted. But as a top dressing, the rain or watering only leaches some of the fertilizer components in at a time.

Get your perennials well mulched now while the weather is still pleasant. I make sure the trees particularly get at least a foot of coarse wood chips. I don’t use colored mulch or any kind and only use big pieces of wood chips so air and water can reach the roots without suffocating them. All the perennial areas except the trees get finer textured mulch made primarily from chipped organic matter from the garden. It breaks down fairly well unlike wood chips. On top of that which is spread around the perennial herbs, flowers, bushes, and such, I put a light layer of the chicken poop with wood shavings.

But I want to give everything a nice liquid fertilizer of our own making before the winter to help the plants survive. We make manure tea by soaking a shovel full of manure plus shavings in a kitchen sized waste paper plastic bin, add a cup of molasses and put a bubbler in from the fish section of the pet store to keep the water moving around. In about a week, strain out the liquid, and dilute the manure tea about 1 part tea to 8 or 9 parts water. Great liquid fertilizer. Apply with a watering can. Good to use a bit of this diluted more like 1 part to 10 or 11 parts water to seedlings once they have their second set of true leaves.

Once the seedlings are planted, carefully add finely chipped garden waste or compost around the babies. Keep them damp but not over-watered until they are well established. And if the garden has somehow gotten compacted during the summer, I loosen but don’t till the soil by using a ‘golden claw’ cultivator just enough to loosen it and add in any new top soil, sand, crushed granite, or other amends prior to planting. If I have the ingredients I will sheet mulch using layers of organic matter each season to every bed and include a handful or compost or good commercial organic top soil for each plant as I replant for fall right into the sheet mulched bed. Either way the soil is boosted.

When I know it is going to get cold enough to frost, I lay my round tomato cages on their sides alternating direction along my planted beds and once it starts to get below about 36 degrees at night, cover it with 3.5 mil plastic sheeting purchased in rolls from Home Depot – preferably the transparent kind, but white will also do – not black! Weigh down the sheeting with cinder blocks or good sized rocks when frost is expected. Roll back the sheeting when the weather gets above 65 during the day or to let in rain. You can grow cool weather crops all fall, winter, and into spring.

Plants will continue to live and grow in all but the coldest winter, even with snow covering the plastic sheeting, but it slows down considerably. Get the plants in early enough to get well established, watering as needed. But once it gets cold, watering usually becomes unnecessary unless you get a particularly warm period. The plastic tends to keep in the moisture but also keep it warm enough not to freeze the soil.

Good luck with your sustainable and high yield gardens. Harvest carefully all winter and into spring. If you plant enough, you can take a leaf here, a leaf there leaving greens plants intact with enough leaf surface to continue photosynthesis. I leave garlic and onions in the ground to grow and harvest in spring but if you need a touch of flavor, nip off a leaf from the root here and there.

I’m saving up for a new camera and hopefully soon, you’ll get pictures in my blogs. Meanwhile, enjoy your own garden activities.

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