The weather is quickly turning cold and wet now that fall has officially arrived and we lost our garden to a hard frost 2 weeks ago. Now we are in full gear putting the garden to bed for the winter. To help the spring planting run as smooth as possible, there are some things that we try to do every year before the snow starts. It takes us a few weekends of work to accomplish everything however we are happy to have put the work in once spring arrives.
First we do some general clean up; putting away tarps, looking for any lost tools, folding up row covers, and pulling up stakes. We do not remove the dead plants unless they are diseased. Bean roots are fantastic nitrogen fixers; tomato plants get pushed over and then are left to breakdown over the winter; and our ducks help clean up the garden by enjoying a smorgasbord with most of the other plants. We do flame weed any patches that are particularly bad to help kill them off for next year.
Second we sheet mulch the entire garden. This is a huge task and takes quite a bit of time however saves us from many weed issues in the spring. This coming spring we are changing the sizes of our growing beds. We are going from a 4 foot bed width with 4 foot walk ways to 2 ½ foot beds with 2 foot walk ways. This will allow us to have more growing space in the same garden and 2 ½ feet is a standard industry
size for row covers and equipment. Because of this change, we are laying down a very thick layer of much over the entire garden to kill any weeds that have popped up in the rows and to give us a healthy blank slate to work with next year.
Small-bed backyard gardeners can do the same thing. Lay a good layer of mulch, compost, or leaves over the entire area or just the beds if you do not have a lot of material to work with. It can be quite thick because organic matter breaks down quickly and anything left over in the spring can just be raked to the side.
We are friends with a local tree trimming company and they dump truck loads of wood chips for us to use. If you do not have that much room, try calling a local tree company and see if they would be willing to drop off a half load next time they are near your house. If you see a tree trimming truck in your neighborhood working, stop by and ask if you can have the chips, most companies are happy to help out.
The third fall garden task we do every year is plant garlic. Planting garlic in the fall is fantastic because it over-winters beautifully and takes one thing off of the spring to-do list. We are going to do an entire post on our garlic planting process in a week or two so stay tuned. You need to put garlic in before the ground freezes hard however after the temperature is consistently cold at night, otherwise the plants can sprout early. Fall garden prep can easily be put off after a long harvest season however the effort will make life so much better in the spring.