It is that time of year, frost, snow and freezing temps are coming, its time to Winterize Your Garden and Compost with these easy steps.
I love a good harvest. Cooking up potatoes to mash; grazing on snap peas every time I pass; a steady supply of kale all summer… it feels so exciting to know that we grew our own food. But after several years in our little yard, we’ve learned how important fall is -not only for harvest- but also to prep your low-waste garden for winter.
1. Remove Garden Debris
It’s time to pull out the remaining, shrivelled stalks and dead debris. Rotting vegetables left can lead to pests and disease over winter, which won’t disappear easily in the spring.
2. Add Garden Plants to Compost:
Unless if your garden had issues like blight or mildew, you can throw the dead plants into the compost. There may be a lot, so if you choose to leave some plants out, leave tomatoes and peppers- they are more disease prone than others. Too many plants or those with disease can be burnt, or put in a yard waste bag if you live in the city.
3. Plant Garlic
Did you know fall is the best time of the year to plant garlic? Over the winter, garlic’s roots can begin developing without yet sprouting above-ground. There are also several perennials that benefit from being planted in the fall if you’re interested in attracting bees and butterflies in the spring.
4. Harvest Compost
Harvest the fantastic soil that comes from your compost. Growing vegetables uses a lot of nutrients, so adding humus made this past summer will enrich your garden for spring. Extra shovelfuls can also be used elsewhere in the yard: lawn, flower beds, etc.
5. Turn Compost
After harvesting, turn your compost. By mixing the compost, you’re breathing life into it and helping it to heat up. With heat, the kitchen scraps and dry matter break down.
6. Collect Brown Matter (aka Carbon)
A compost needs both Brown Matter (straw, dried leaves, wood chips) and Green matter (kitchen scraps). Brown matter produces carbon, and carbon combined with nitrogen is what makes rich humus. Using what you already have is a zero-waste mindset, so look around your yard and collect dry leaves to start!
7. Add Brown Matter to the Garden and Compost
For compost: Not only does brown matter enrich the compost, but it also insulates it. If you’re not sure how much to add, there are ratio tables. However, I like to follow my intuition a bit: my rule of thumb is if the compost smells very strong, add more dry matter. If it’s very dry, more green matter.
For garden: A layer of dried leaves or straw covering the garden will help prevent erosion of the soil from wind, rain and snow. It will also stop weed seeds from sitting in the soil waiting for spring. Some gardeners also plant a cover crop to further enrich the topsoil, which is also worth considering.
8. Save Some Leaves!
It is a good idea to continue adding leaves throughout winter, layering it in with the kitchen scraps. This is especially true if you are in a warmer climate that doesn’t always have freezing temperatures in the winter.
9. Insulate Compost
Organisms will be busiest if your bin is warm. I live in “Winterpeg”, so we often have temperatures far beyond freezing. But I am going to try protecting my compost from wind for the first time this year with flattened cardboard boxes. It may still be a frozen mass, but hey- so will I!
10. Make a Map for Next Year!
If you’re like me in the spring and don’t know where to start, jot down a map of your yard and plants. That way, the veggies you loved last year will have a place, and you can also remember which ones simply didn’t work out, and which ones you want to start with seed or with kitchen scraps.
Are you a gardener, or just starting out? What have you learned so far?