Putting Our Gardens to Bed
By Gini Bramlett
For the Calapooia Food Alliance
What to do in the fall garden to prepare it for winter’s colder temperatures will surely depends on various factors. One factor is if you need to protect existing perennials and/or fall plantings or not.
I grow various perennials such as artichokes and asparagus. Artichokes have a Mediterranean heritage, which means they require warmer temperatures to make it through the winter. To survive the colder and sometimes freezing temperatures like we have in the Willamette Valley, they need protection such as straw or leaves.
Asparagus is another matter. They can take the colder winter temperatures, so there’s no need to cover your beds, but when all the fern-like fronds have turned yellow, they should be cut down to the ground. Don’t be tempted to cut them early. The fronds gather and story energy for the next year’s crop, so don’t rush it.
Berries need some attention before cooling temperatures descend as well. Most varieties of cane berries are hardy as far north as Canada, but some pruning is in order. Overbearing cane berries such as raspberries and blackberries should be cut down to about 4 feet in the fall (and supported if necessary). Then, add manure and mulch to their base for root protection.
Carrots, beets, parsnips and other root-type crops are fairly cold hardly. Harvest some now, but go ahead a leave the remainder in the ground to harvest as needed, but not without covering them with some kind of mulch such a leaves or straw to protect from hard frosts.
It’s best to remove most of the larger stems, dead plants and unused produce to avoid attracting varmints, bugs and the like. Put this refuse in either your compost pile or chip it up before returning it to the soil. I usually work small or chipped refuse into the soil a bit to give it a jump on decomposing. I then cover it all with hay or leaves.
It’s always best not to leave open, exposed, bare ground in your vegetable garden. If nothing is planted there, weeds will find it too enticing to pass up. Also, the neighborhood cats and other varmints might decide to use it as their personal litter box. Another good reason to protect the fertile soil you’ve worked so hard to enrich, is heavy rains could literally leech the nutrients away.
Consequently, its best to always cover your open garden with a mulch of some kind; dead leaves, compost, straw or any organic material that will begin to break down and add nutrients to your soil while protecting it. Other possibilities are: sawdust, wood shavings, and apple pulp from pressing, spoiled hay, hulls or shells (which take longer to break down, but work fine), chipped corn stalks, pine needles and seaweed.
Planting cover crops/green manures is one sure-fire method that not only protects your soil from erosion, but adds much-needed nitrogen when tilled into the beds when spring comes. Possible choices for cover crops are: buckwheat (excellent for nourishing a neglected, poor soil), alfalfa (considered to be the king of soil building crops), rye grain, soybeans and red and sweet clovers. Check with OSU Extension for more cover crop ideas.
Finally, the best reason for putting your garden to bed for winter is that it saves work come spring, leaving time to do what gardeners like best, planting the garden.
Honey to Support the CFA
You may notice a new item on the shelves of the some of the local businesses, art center and museum this holiday season. The Calapooia Food Alliance has delved into the honey business, and sells the locally-produced golden nectar in small and larger bottles around town by the name: “B’ville Honey” with a colorful graphic of our famous Brownsville Bridge. Soon, look for special collectible labels designed by local artists.