11. November:The Winter Garden

Winter is icumen in,

Raineth drop and staineth slop,

And how the wind doth ramm!

Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,

An ague hath my ham.

Freezeth river, turneth liver,

So ‘gainst the winter’s balm.

Sing and garden, sing and pardon,

Sing the season in.

-with apologies to Ezra Pound’s “Ancient Music”

Now that it’s mid-September, our gardens will take care of themselves until next spring – right?  Well, sort of.  But there are several things to consider as you prepare for winter.

Feeling lucky?  We’ve still got about four weeks until first frost, and if we have a warm fall, maybe more.  You could still get a crop of leaf lettuce, kale, radishes or spinach if you get them planted soon.  Lettuce, kale and spinach will continue to grow after the first frost and up to a hard frost that does them in once and for all.

Light mulching to prevent the ground from freezing and to protect seedlings from the wind will also prolong the growing season for hardy leafy vegetables. Root vegetables like carrots, radishes, and turnips can be left in the ground if mulched, but since we’re using raised beds, the soil can freeze from the sides in as well as from the top down, so this year will be a chance to see what happens.

Green manures like annual (not perennial) ryegrass, buckwheat, and winter rye can be planted now to provide winter mulch and spring compost to work in before planting.

And if you’ve ordered your cold frame (reminder to self: order cold frame), you can be growing kale, lettuce, spinach, and radishes up until Thanksgiving.  Just bank the frame with bags of leaves or straw and on cold nights, cover with a blanket. When the time comes to store the cold frame (no, you can’t just leave it in the dirt all winter – freezing and thawing cycles can wreck the wood), remove soil with a wire brush and let it stand in a dry spot to dry out.  A wash with chlorine bleach will kill any soil bacteria or decay organisms.

Speaking of pesty organisms, now is the time to map your garden.  Next spring you’ll want to avoid planting things in the same sections of the bed, especially if you had problems with some of your crops.  Use your map to note any plants that were attacked by pests so you can plan preventative care next season.

Summer is icumin in,

So sing, cuckoo, sing.

The seed grows and the meadow blooms,

And the wood springs anew….

And it’s never too soon to start thinking about all the winter afternoons you can spend planning what to put in next year.  Amaranth?  It’s grain has more protein than wheat or corn, its leaves are as healthy as spinach, and its stalks can be eaten like asparagus.   Yacon?  This sweet, perennial tuber can be planted early (April), out-produce potatoes and survive winters, but should be harvested lightly the first year and, like zucchini and melons, needs a fairly large growing radius.  The important thing to remember is that we’ll be able to start a lot earlier next season, and soon we’ll be singing…

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