As we have entered our official cold season and skipped what other areas of the United States calls "Indian Summer" in favor of our splash into the wet season, there are a few things gardeners can do to save time and, more importantly, frustrations.
Prepping a garden during the winter ensures that time and frustrations are minimal and that growth is maximal. Want to prevent your garden from harboring weeds, pests, and volunteer starts? Will you be ready and able to plant at the first hint of spring or will you be like me and the past two years, wondering where my head is as I realize I am a month late in my plantings? This year, I am gearing up to create a successful, and early garden.
Fall Clean Up
By now, we should all have cleaned out our garden plots of weeds, garden debris, spent vines, and any fruits or veggies that were not harvested. Some believe that leaving these refuse adds nutrition to the soil, but it can also add diseases, weeds, insect eggs, and other not-so-wanted pestilences.
Add Soil Amendments
Now is a fantastic time to add compost, mushroom soil, and leaves to our plots; by incorporating these amendments now, they will ensure that tiny microbes in the soil can decompose and expose the nutrition before spring's planting begins.
The Northwest climate is ripe for winter plantings, such as garlic, shallots, beets, lettuce, etc. if properly covered during frosts. Sowing a cover crop is also a fantastic idea so the soil can recover lost nitrogen and other nutrients.
Mulching and Applying Organic Material
If sowing a cover crop is not a feasible option as it is for some, then covering your plot with a mulch of compost, mushroom soil, or three to four inches of shredded leaves will restrict weed growth and encourage earthworm multiplication for easier spring clean-up and planting. Mulching protects plants from drastic temperature changes, insulates plants, and prevents soil erosion. A secret tip is to not mulch too early as it may encourage pests and disease--wait until after the first frost has occurred. 4-6 inches of pine needles, leaves, straw, corn stalks, and other organic material is a great use of mulching and composting.
Evaluating Garden Design
Lastly, before starting preparations, take a moment to review what worked and what did not. I used grow beds, but built the tops too steeply and caused too much water run-off and therefore soil erosion this past growing season. I will definitely not make that mistake again! A thoughtful plan will save hassles and money.
Soon it will be time to order and plant seeds, so make sure your garden and soil is as ready as you are.