The days are growing shorter, colder, and darker, and people and animals alike must begin to make previsions. We shed our so-called “summer coats” for heavier, bulkier winter ones. In this time of change it is time to prepare your garden for the coming months.
Just like you probably add a few additional layers to your own bed during the winter time, you can “bundle up” your garden beds too! There are three good reasons to do this. and two different methods we suggest. First of all, covering your beds will prevent erosion, or soil loss, and perhaps nutrient depletion in the harsh winter storms. Covering the soil will also keep it from getting too compacted. Leaving space between soil particles will make it easier to plant seeds in the spring and help roots and bugs find their way. Thirdly, covering the beds will help to prevent weeds from growing over the Fall, Winter, and early Spring, which will make your job of planting easier later on.
The two methods we suggest are using cover crops and burlap. Hay works as well, but can have seeds in it which may germinate and be a pain in the Spring. You can also cover your beds with cloches to extend the growing season a bit, but that is for another post!
To cover with burlap, make sure the bed is fully cleaned out of any previous crops and/or weeds.
If you have compost to add, you can do so, as well as adding lime to enrich the soil. If you do this, make sure to use a soil test and follow the instructions on how much lime to use.
Next, cover the soil with burlap and pin it down with rocks or garden staples. In the Spring, you will have rich, fluffy soil to plant in!
Cover crops are another great way to cover your beds. Not only do they provide all the benefits of burlap by holding the soil in place and maintaining space between soil particles, but they also serve to add nutrients to the soil!
Cover crops such as fava beans and other legumes “fix” Nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots. This means the plants have to be worked into the soil to get the benefits. First, you will want to clean out the bed just like with burlap.
Secondly, plant the cover crop seeds as instructed on the packet. Make sure to keep an eye on the plants, and as they flower, chop them up and work them into the soil.
Does your Learning Garden have a worm bin? If not, it should! If so, have you found your worms seldom make it through the winter? Here are some tips that should help!
Begin by making sure the bin is big enough that the worms can cuddle for warmth. We recommend at least 2x2x2.
Next, move the soil and worms towards the middle of the bin so you can line the inner walls with cardboard.
This will help to insulate the bin, and the cardboard will eventually break down and become part of the worm bin itself. You should also add a few extra layers of newspaper and burlap to the top to retain heat and moisture.
Also keep in mind that if you do lose your worms, their eggs can withstand freezing temperatures and should be able to hatch come Spring!
If your Learning Garden contains a chicken coop (lucky you!), then there are a few recommendations we have for helping your fine feathered friends fare the foul frosts. Firstly, you can line the inside walls of the nesting box with cardboard just like with the worm bin. This will help to insulate the area where they lay and sleep.
You can also add some extra layers of pine shavings and not clean as much out when you do change the litter. This is called “deep litter method”. It helps to keep the roost warm and cozy by allowing the compost to break down and heat up naturally.
Avoid the temptation to install a heat lamp during the winter. Not only can this be a fire hazard, but chickens are actually pretty good at withstanding low temperatures. Creating too much of a temperature difference between their coop and the outside will just make it harder for them to regulate their own body temperature.
Finally, stapling a sheet or two of plastic to the outside of the run can help to keep out the wind, rain, and snow. Be careful to leave a certain amount uncovered to allow for ventilation.
Hope your winter is not too harsh! Let us know if this was helpful to you, or if you have any questions about/need assistance with preparing your garden this season.
Sources and Resources:
Methods of Winterizing your Garden
The Art of Cover Cropping: Sustainable Care for a Happy Garden
Regulating Temperature in a Worm Bin
How to Keep your Chickens Warm in the Winter
Chickens & Body Temperature: What you need to Know