It’s time to put my vegetable garden to bed for the winter.
Most suggestions on how to do this center around cleaning the current site up, testing and preparing the soil for the next spring, and protecting the garden site from pests, disease, and soil erosion.
Cleaning Up the Current Garden Area:
It is important to rid a garden of dead plant matter because it can provide cover for existing pests and diseases, and it might allow them to survive the winter and multiply.
Also, this is a good time for me to get rid of any weeds that might be creeping up so that they don’t have a chance to grow and perhaps even seed before the ground freezes. It is also a prime opportunity to clean up any other debris (tools, temporary support sticks and strings, etc.) cluttering up the garden space.
Finally, while I have the current garden configuration fresh in my mind, I like to consider the layout for next year. I plan on shoring up my footpaths and reviewing where I want to put support structures (like bean poles, tomato trellises, etc.) for next year.
Testing and Correcting My Vegetable Garden’s Soil Condition:
While the cleanup tasks are fairly straightforward, the testing and preparation of the soil is a bit more involved. I use an inexpensive soil tester (purchased at a local hardware store) to analyze my soil’s pH and nutrient levels. Depending on the test results, I perform any necessary remediation.
Correcting vegetable garden soil deficiencies usually involves adding to the soil such items as mulch, fertilizer, manure, or other soil amendments depending on what the results of my soil test show. Fall is a prime time to make these corrections because it gives the amendments time to break down and work into the soil over the winter.
Many sources agree that most garden vegetables do best in soils with a pH of between about 6.0 to about 7.4, but my vegetable garden soil, like much soil in Colorado, tends to be a bit alkaline, so I usually have to decrease the pH rather than raise it. According to a Colorado Master Gardener Program Yard and Garden Publication, this can be difficult to do – http://www.cmg.colostate.edu/gardennotes/222.html
I have been successful in lowering my soil’s pH by adding a layer of fresh, nutrient-rich non-alkaline soil.
Protecting the Soil from Erosion:
Once I have added the new soil, I will take steps to protect it from eroding over the winter.
Many experts advocate planting a “cover” crop if your garden area won’t be covered by snow all winter. Otherwise, they suggest covering your garden with mulch to avoid winter soil erosion. Since my vegetable garden site is typically covered with snow for the entire winter, I will only have to use the mulch.
Next Spring’s Garden – I’ll be ready!:
Once I finish cleaning up this season’s remnants, correcting the soil condition issues, and protecting my garden site with mulch, I can take a break, knowing that my Colorado vegetable garden has been successfully put to bed for the winter. I look forward to all of the fantastic fresh vegetables I will enjoy again next year!