Winter garden prep or overwintering beds seems to be a newer mainstream practice in the last decade or so. Not that it wasn’t done by growers who were enlightened to the benefits prior to this time frame, it’s just the importance is finally getting the attention it deserves. And let’s be clear, it does deserve it!
I can say that over the last year, that I’ve been active in the blog content here at MIgardener, we have been doing our best to show you ways that the garden can work for you. We know that the to-do lists are miles long and that there just are not enough hours in the day to get it all done. The worst part is the miles are adding up.
So what is the hype?
If I were a gambler, I would bet that when breaking the concepts, you know why preparing our beds for winter is important. Let’s review the broad points we touched on over the last few months.
Continuing to add organic matter to your soil will increase its vitality for the seasons to come. Mother Nature doesn’t like to be bare, if you don’t cover her soil, she will! Covering the soil prevents runoff and erosion. Covering your beds in some manner, limits the jumpstart ‘weed’ seeds have to germinate and take over our growing spaces.
Two Ways to Look at Bed Clean-up
Sure, there are many ways to look at it, but to make it simple we are going to be looking at two ways. To remove or to leave it, that is the question!
In this piece, we are going to be using the category of ‘weeds’ to mean any plants we do not want growing in our growing space. The benefits that some of these ‘weeds’ possess are for another day!
Removing weeds and diseased plants is the first step in proper overwintering. There have been seasons where I think the weeds get stronger and stronger and this just creates so much work for me. There is a reason you feel this way.
As much as we would love our favorite garden snacks to overwinter with this vigor it seems only weeds have these capabilities! When weeds are left to hibernate they are just waiting for the chance to break through the ground come spring. Because they have adapted to their environment they are able to begin their germination process earlier than we can see beneath the soil.
Pulling weeds, preferably prior to then have the chance to go to seed, will help limit the weed pressure in the early season. Weeds are also known for harboring diseases that can inoculate your plants, putting them off to a rough start. We know disease pressure increases pest pressure from past blogs too!
Speaking of disease, you should also pull diseased plants to either discard or run through a Hot Composting Method. Leaving these plants can again harbor trials for the next season. In the Fall and Winter, I want to do everything I can to make my growing season easier, so eradicating disease, through as many modes as I can, is key!
We have gotten rid of the bad, now what to do with the good?
Hopefully, you have heard of the Chop and Drop Method at this point. If not, it acts as it sounds. Cutting spent plants at the base of the soil and leaving them in place to break down for the next season. Think of it as onsite composting. Will this help shorten your to-do list for Spring? Already have at least some of your composted nutrients in place gets you to planting sooner! And we all love that!
This practice can act as a barrier over your soil which again, prevents runoff and erosion. What is below the soil, the root structures will feed the soil microorganisms and bacteria beneath the surface throughout the winter. Don’t forget that finding a way to produce compost onsite can help save us monetarily as well!
As long as you are getting out the disease and weeds, chop down the rest and let your garden work for you!
Alternative and Additional Coverings
Whether you are prepping new beds that don’t already have plant matter that we can chop and drop or you don’t have enough to establish a good winter covering, here are some other options!
The organic matter we have all around us can be put to work for us as well! Grass clippings and chopped leaves can make a great winter blanket for our beds. When looking at the components of a good compost pile, grass clippings act as your green, and dried chopped leaves act as your brown. This MIsprouts blog gives a brief look into compost production
Sure you could go to the store and pick up bags of mulch or compost to do the trick, but I am all about finding the frugal option. Another benefit of using organic matter from around the property is less of a chance to bring in disease and unwanted pests that may be stowaways in store-bought products!
So you already have a compost pile that is active, creating mature compost for you? First off, virtual high-five, that’s added to the ways your garden is working for you!
Mature compost can be used as a mulch or winter blanket for beds. It will not only cover and protect your soil but it is a nutrient-dense hibernation meal! That will have your soil bouncing with life as Spring rolls around! Typically when I use compost as a mulch, I prefer to put down a good 4” layer to cover my beds.
Maybe you don’t have the quantity of organic matter around your property to sufficiently cover your soil. There are physical barriers that we can use to get the job done. Whether you want to use this type of product in the interim as you are creating a compost system or these just make more sense to your practices, they are a great option.
Typically I look for products that will cause the least amount of damage to my soil. I look for UV-treated and made to withstand the weather for years to come. Silage tarps are a physical barrier that gets the job done.
It’s basically a one-step process. Place the tarps over your beds and weigh them down, best with sandbags or something similar. And then wait for your next season.
A con to silage tarps that may not make it worth the monetary investment for you, is that silage tarps make for a seed sterile bed. Meaning the seeds that were under the tarp, if used properly, will not have the ability to germinate after you remove them. If you are someone who loves the joy of volunteer plants, this may not be the best option for you!
Give it a Go!
Fall is here and Winter is knocking on our door in Michigan. If cover crops were the options for you, hopefully, you caught that in an earlier blog and the seeds have been sown. Your zone may have a longer grace period to still get that down. If you are out of time for germination, don't worry, just pick one of the other options to winterize your beds.
On my farm, we are experimenting with multiple practices to determine what works best for us! This can be done on a small scale as well. If you have more than one bed, I encourage you to also try a few different methods. Have a cover crop in one, mulch deep with compost on another and maybe you have a Fall leaf and grass crop mixture that can cover the third bed. Take detailed notes through the seasons and maybe you will find the best options for you!
Tag us on Instagram once your beds are tucked in for winter! They too can dream of all the bounty this next season will bring!
– Halley from MIgardener
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