Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
What are you doing inside at the computer? It's time to get outside and get gardening!
Why? Because what you do right now may lead to next year's gardening success ... or failure.
There are four things you need to get outside and do on whatever days you aren't buried in snow. Take my advice and your spring garden will be smashing.
What four things? I'm glad you asked.
Gather Tons of Leaves!
In some parts of the country, it might be almost too late for gathering leaves, but in some areas, there are still plenty lying around for the taking. Roadside paper bags stuffed with leaves? Grab them. A neighbor about to burn a huge pile? Help them throw the pile over your fence instead. Trees work really hard to make those leaves, gathering lots of nutrients from the soil as they do. Get them for your yard. You're going to want them for the next step.
Build a Compost Bin and Make Compost!
Your bin doesn't have to be anything brilliant. A ring of wire works as well as a lovely hand-crafted sustainably harvested cedar lumber model with sterling silver handles. Or you can do what I did once: gut a refrigerator, lay it on its back, and voila! Compost bin!
Those leaves you just gathered are going to be the carbon for this puppy. Good sources of nitrogen include waste from a local farmer's market, urine, animal manure, food scraps, etc. Wet your pile down really well and if you're lucky, you can get it hot enough to cook all winter ... and be ready to feed your gardens in spring.
Sheet Mulch New Garden Plots!
If you'd rather apply your compost directly and not fiddle with a pile, sheet mulching is a fun and productive way to do it. Crop an area of your lawn, spread a layer of cardboard or a multi-page layer of newspaper right on top of the ground, then pile up organic matter. Rotten straw, all those leaves you gathered, shredded paper, the remnants of summer's garden ... pile it up and wet it down. I like to go at least a foot thick. By late spring, it's likely that the grass beneath is good and dead ... and the ground is teeming with worms. I transformed an area of hard rocky clay into loamy earthworm-rich soil over a couple of winters with this method. It works!
Assess Your Failures and Plan for Success!
Ever garden year has its own problems. I ended up hating the way some of my beds were laid out one year... so over the fall and winter, I changed them. You're not actively tending anything at this time of year. It's a chance to let ideas flow. Read seed catalogs, read some new books, talk with friends and don't be afraid to make great and glorious plans. In my mind I've built vast greenhouses that could contain forests, constructed arbors that would rival the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and grown a million different varieties of heirloom vegetables. In real life, I sometimes don't even get all my beds planted... yet sometimes my fall and winter daydreaming have led me to solutions I just didn't have time to consider in the heat of the growing season. Let your imagination fly.
As the holidays sneak up on us and the cold shuts down the remnants of our gardens, don't you shut down. What you do now will lead to healthy soil, less work and grand ideas that will fuel you right on through 2014.
Get out there and get cracking. It may be cold ... but it's worth it!