What the Best-Dressed Beds Are Wearing This Winter

| 11/14/2008 7:23:28 AM

Tags: soil, mulch, cover crops, winter gardening,

Veggie production slows to a feeble crawl as winter sets in, but below ground, microorganisms in the soil keep working year-round. To support this process, you can mulch over beds with leaves, grass clippings, straw, or another biodegradable material, or grow cold-hardy cover crops

Letting your beds go through winter naked is a cruel option that exposes soil to the triple threat of compaction from rain and ice, erosion caused by wind and water, and nutrient loss from leaching. Mulches and cover crops cushion and protect the soil, and as they decompose they improve the soil's ability to retain nutrients by increasing its organic matter content.

Use leaves, stockpiled grass clippings, old hay, or whatever you have to tuck in your beds for winter. 

Consider Your Options

At this late date, mulch is the most practical option for most of us. Use whatever you can get your hands on, and pile it on thick. You can keep mulching all through winter if you don't have snow, because there is no such thing as too much winter mulch. In spring, when you want your beds to dry out and warm up, simply rake the mulch into pathways, or pile it up and re-use it later on, when your plants are up and growing. 

WheatBPHardy grains including oats, rye and wheat make great winter cover crops because their extensive roots do a good job of improving the soil's structure, and they will often germinate in cold soil. If you have a small garden, try sowing small patches using handfuls of whole grains purchased at the health food store. The seeds will sprout during mild breaks in the weather. In spring, you can chop the plants into the soil or pull them up and compost them.

Nitrogen-fixing legumes are an even better choice, particularly hairy vetch, Austrian winter peas and crimson clover. These crops need a bit of a head start in fall (planting dates range from September in the North to October in the South), but if you can get them established before winter, you'll have a dream situation in spring. Simply use a sharp hoe to sever each plant at the soil line. Let the foliage dry into a mat for a few days, and then make openings in the mulch to plant your veggies.

2/15/2011 3:32:20 PM

On person mentioned using the ash from his coal burning stove. It is very high in mercury and should be considered a toxic waste and not returned to the garden.

1/12/2009 1:13:50 PM

I am using my woodburning stove for the first time this winter and I am wondering if anyone knows about using the ash from the stove in my compost? I am concerned about altering the pH of the compost too dramatically. For now I have sprinkled the ash in a segregated pile and have stirred it in and I am using some of it in my inground canine solid waste disposal system. Any thoughts or opinions? Thanks

Barbara Martin_1
1/6/2009 7:07:56 AM

Does anyone have an environmentally friendly solution to grubs. I don't want to use chemicals if I can find another solution. Now they are hiding in the ground, but I know come spring they will be at my plants again. I do not use chemicals in my yard, much to the chagrin of my neighbors, but it does seem like the grubs are multiplying faster and faster every year. I think I am loosing this war.

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