December–preparing garden to “sleep.”

Winter Garden, December

Winter garden as of December 2.

Planting a second crop of cool weather vegetables has turned out to be a good idea. The collard and turnip greens are thriving in this cool and wet weather. Kale, arugula, tatsoi, and spinach, are all lush green as you can see in my December photo. Dill weed is doing well giving the garden an added spectacle of green. Even the tops of garlic greens have appeared. My garden reminds me more of spring than winter, but I know the dusting of snow several weeks ago is a precursor of the first deep frost. It is time to prepare my garden to “sleep.” That is, to ensure my garden time to establish nutrients in the soil during the winter to produce wonderful flavor and rich vegetables next season.

Having enjoyed so many wonderful vegetables from my garden and the creative process of seeing the results of my efforts, I have decided to continue my artistry (smile) by moving to a plot double in size. I have begun planning and getting the new garden for next spring planting. I understand the importance letting your garden rest. Much of what you do now will influence a rich the soil structure once spring has returned. So, I have begun working on my new plot by putting it to “sleep,” so to speak.

Flash's clearing of the weeds

Flash cleared much of the vegetation before putting down the first layer of ground cover.

Flash Woodward has put me in motion for my garden 2012, sharing helpful gardening tips and recommendations. He is a seasoned gardener and willingly shares his expertise with many. Cover crops, says Flash, is a popular choice of putting your garden to sleep. Cover crops are plants grown not to be used as food. Rather, the major benefit of cover crop materials is to improve soil conditions, replenish soil nutrients, and tilth–the suitability of sowing seeds. In addition, cover crops reduce the need for nitrogen fertilization come spring. Keeping down the weeds during the winter is another important benefit. (Yes, weeds continue to grow during the winter.)

Although there are many different types of cover crop, Flash uses two types: red clover and winter rye. Both red clover and winter rye–green manure–help to improve soil. According to Livestrong, “Microorganisms living in the roots of the clover absorb nitrogen from the air and provide it to the plant, which ultimately increases the soil’s fertility.” Red clover will survive the winter, keeping the soil moist. Come spring this moisture will make the soil difficult to work. Tilling or working wet soil in the spring harms the soil structure.

Winter kills winter rye and makes it easier to incorporate into the soil for spring planting. Winter rye is easier to work when spring arrives since the tops have died back during the winter. Admittedly, winter rye appeals to me because it produces drier matter requiring less work to incorporate into the soil for spring planting. The choice of red clover or winter rye becomes, however, a personal preference and how much effort you want to put forth come spring. Mid October to early November is when you begin sowing either red clover or winter rye. I have missed this planting season, but there is an alternative.

Plot with cardboard

Layering of horse, mulch and cardboard for ground cover--preparing garden to sleep.

Aside from red clover and winter rye, there is one another method of “putting your garden to sleep.” That is, using a combination of mulch, cardboard, and, when available, old rugs. This is the ground cover I have selected to my new garden to sleep. Thanks to Flash, he has removed most of the vegetation, using discarded rugs, and piles of leaves, he has placed over the decaying vegetation to accelerate decomposition. When rugs are unavailable, he uses flattened cardboard boxes that work just as well. The cardboard decomposes during this sleep period, and can be incorporated into the soil come spring. “Organic matter contributes to the soil’s structure, says Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, “and is critical for the support of earthworms and other organism.”

Following Flash’s lead, I have covered the plot with a combination of horse manure and mulch, and then covering this with the flattened-cardboard boxes. To keep the cardboard boxes from flying off come a good wind, I have added yet another layer of horse manure and mulch over the cardboard boxes. Essentially this is akin to composting your garden for sleep.

Plots "D' and "E" completed and ready to "sleep."

Plots "D" and "E" completed and ready to "sleep."

Putting my garden to sleep doesn’t mean my gardening chores are over. Weeding the winter garden prevents weeds from establishing a firm hold on your garden come spring. Although the major growing seasons have ended, I can begin planning my 2012 garden and continue to learn from the many people I have met though the community gardening. Gardening continues to reward me not only with fresh and healthy vegetables, but also with a rich sense of community, working with others while sharing ideas and solutions to gardening problems. Photographing others expressing their individual creativity adds to my pleasure. I eagerly await planting next spring to reunite with the many people I have met. Yes, gardening encourages a sense of community.

Meanwhile, it is time to reflect on mistakes made and lessons learned. Remember to bookmark me for the 2012 gardening season. Also, return soon because I will begin to share my recipes for winter greens–collards, kale, tat-soi and Tokoyo Cross turnips.

About Harold McCray

Artist in the kitchen enjoying my three passions: cooking, photography, and writing.
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20 Responses to December–preparing garden to “sleep.”

  1. Edwin Gargel says:

    Harold
    I wonder about the leaching of chemicals from cardboard or carpet into your
    organic soil.
    Ed

    • Ed, thanks for mentioning this concern. Most of the flattened cardboard boxes used in the garden have little or no printing on them, but I have no clue as to their origin. However, corrugated cardboard is said to contain traces of formaldehyde. I carefully selected boxes and paper products for my garden. Most newspapers and box making companies are now using soy ink that is safe in the garden. Now, using old carpets might present a problem, and I’m glad that I haven’t used this method to put my garden to sleep while chemical leached in my garden. I suppose I should have mentioned this in my blog.

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