Wednesday, October 22, 2008

winterizing the vegetable garden

I was looking at The 2009 Farmers' Almanac and see they are predicting a "numbingly cold and snowy" winter for the Northeast US. OMG! I hope they're wrong. I'm never ready for winter. I keep hoping we'll skip it somehow. Nevertheless, my garden is winterized now.

"How do you winterize you vegetable garden?" I see this question around a lot so here's what I did. (Do you do the same?)

To winterize, I removed all debris and summer plants. I pulled all the squashes and tomatoes and tomato poles and beans, etc. These went into the compost pile and I raked the ground. Since the soil in my community plot is very acidic (low pH - 5.5 last time I send out a sample) I added lime.

I planted a cover crop in the bare areas without fall crops (a mix from Johnny's Selected Seeds called green manure mix, includes field peas, vetch, clover and winter rye). I'll turn this under in the spring. Peas and vetch add nitrogen to the soil, others add organic matter and prevent runoff. I lightly raked in the cover seeds and lime.

Finally I added a good layer of grass clippings or salt marsh hay around my growing fall crops. This should keep the weeds down in this area, retain moisture, and help protect from the very cold weather that will (unfortunately) be here soon. I hope to pick greens into December. Last year my kale was good down to 10 degrees F.


garden girl said...

good tips!

Emily said...

Thanks for the tips. Do you think I could use leaves to protect my kale and brussels sprouts instead of hay?

Susie said...

Greens in December?? I got to try that next year!! I say that a lot on this blog:-)

kathy said...

You can certainly grow kale and several other greens into December most years near Boston.

Our average first frost date in Boston (and in the protected garden next to my house) is the first week of November. (We have a chilly night coming tonight and my home garden may frost early this year.)

So often it takes until late December and January for the real cold (teens and single digits - F) to settle on us. Until them, I can "grow" a few hardy vegetables.

I'm copying some useful information below from Harvest to Table:

"Cool-season vegetables are often further categorized as hardy and half hardy.

"Hardy vegetables are the most cold tolerant. Hardy vegetables will grow when the daytime temperature is as low as 40º (5ºC) degrees. Hardy vegetables include: asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chives, collards, garlic, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, mustard, onions, parsley, peas, radishes, rhubarb, rutabaga, spinach, and turnips.

"Half-hardy or semi-hardy vegetables grow when the minimum temperature is between 40º and 50º (5-10ºC). They are able to tolerate light freezes, that is just a few hours of frost. Half-hardy vegetables include: beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery, celeriac, chard, Chinese cabbage, chicory, globe artichokes, endive, lettuce, parsnips, potatoes, salsify, sorrel, and hardy herbs.

"Many cool-season crops that come to maturity before or shortly after the first frost in autumn can be protected where they are in the garden from freezing temperatures and harvested as needed throughout the winter. These plants do not continue to grow, but simply maintain and remain ready for harvest."

Broad leaf escarole is also considered cold hardy and will over-winter in some areas. I'll see how late it remains ready in my garden this year.

kathy said...

Hi Emily,

I think you can use leaves instead of hay. Someone left a comment here recently and said they do this. And I heard today (from Sal - the owner of my local small nursery) that oak leaves work best as they dry better. Maple and other leaves tend to compress and get soggy. I thought this was interesting if you have a choice of leaves.

Emily said...

Thanks Kathy,
I was thinking about the large pile of maple leaves in the front yard, but maybe I'll wait for the oak in the bark to shed its leaves.

Thanks also for the info on which veggies are cold hardy. I'm looking to stretch my season as long as possible.


Anonymous said...

Question for ya if I might.

I live in NY and we have four 4x4 small veg raised beds in our front yards. There has been a debate about how to winter and prepare them for spring planting. They left the leaves and stalks in the ground all winter, and I wanted to pull them off today (Feb 26th). The rest of my house mates claim that cleaning them up this early (raking the leaves off and pulling dead stuff) is something you never do… They claim not to until you are ready to plant - otherwise the boxes will lose “all the nutrients” out of it. I never heard that before.
Any ideas on this subject?

Thank you

kathy said...

I notice that many gardeners at our community plots leave the plants from last season in the ground until spring. The birds enjoy these.

However, I've always thought it important to remove all old plants and debris from the garden in the fall. Pathogens can overwinter in the old plant material. To me, the winter garden looks nicer if its clean. Plus I like to plant a cover crop for winter.

I remove all debris to my compost pile in the fall.

My main worries are tomato leaf spot fungi and root maggots. Of course, pathogens can overwinter in the compost pile too. But I think maybe after the debris is composted a couple years the pathogens may not survive.

Crop rotation is also important for minimizing diseases.