Vegetable gardening is one of my favorite pastimes, partly because it’s a solitary activity that, afterwards, leaves me smelling like fresh Earth. It’s also a source of pride when I watch the fruits of my labor literally grow and multiply before my eyes. When I harvest my tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, basil, and rhubarb, I know exactly where the food came from, how it was cared for, and how it was prepared.
Gardening can also be extremely frustrating! Like most things in life, the more hard work you put into it in the beginning, the easier the project is near the end. But, if you only put a little effort in at a time, that need for more effort never quite goes away. That’s why I start my gardening process in the late fall, when gardening is the last thing on most people’s minds. I start by preparing the soil as though I were getting ready to start planting the next day.
I’m no professional gardener, but I have been enjoying this hobby for several years. I encourage our readers with more knowledge to add additional tips in our comments section! Here’s a quick rundown of my methods:
PREPARE MY COMPOST
Composting is an entirely different blog subject that I hope to get to soon, but for the sake of this “winterizing” topic, you should know that I have a two-part compost system. Part one is a large garbage can with lots of holes drilled into it. Part two is a compost pile, fenced off with chicken-wire so my dogs don’t dig into it! When I’m ready to winterize my garden, I’ll scrape the top layer of compost off my compost pile and access the good stuff below. This compost is made from kitchen scraps, leaves, and grass clippings that have spent part of the year in the trash bin (step one) and the rest of the year close to the Earth where worms and bugs have helped to break it down into a rich, soil-like consistency. I’ll shovel all of the finished compost into a wheel barrel, and replace the top layer of compost in the pile, so that the old top layer is now in the bottom and the new compost (from the garbage can) is on top.
REMOVE OLD MULCH
Using a garden rake, I pull away all of the mulch to expose the soil beneath, and I toss that mulch into the very top of the compost pile.
PULL THE WEEDS
Now that I have access to the bare dirt, I can pull up the weeds using a hand shovel, and make sure to remove the root balls completely. I’m not just pulling the weeds, however; I’m pulling out the old plants (annuals, like tomato, pepper and basil plants, that won’t be coming back) and cutting down the perennials (like rhubarb, mint, and strawberries) so they can go into dormancy for the winter. All the weeds and dead plants then get tossed into the empty composting trash bin.
TILL THE SOIL
Using a spade garden shovel, I turn over scoops of soil in rows, and break up the chunks of dirt, making sure not to till up any of the soil within a 6-12 inch diameter around my perennial plants. Tilling the soil this way aerates the ground and makes it easier to mix in the compost.
Grabbing handfuls of compost at a time, I spread my rich compost mixture over the tilled up garden, and use a garden rake or garden hoe to mix the compost in with your soil. Make sure it’s mixed up well! Compost, though it looks like soil, is actually not soil. Compost retains water, whereas soil filters away the water. Having compost well-mixed with your soil allows the water to drain more slowly and gives plants more time to absorb it. If all of your compost is just spread across the top of your soil, it doesn’t benefit the plant roots, where it’s needed most.
Once your compost is well-mixed, use your rake or hoe to level out your garden area.
COVER YOUR GARDEN
You might be tempted to go buy bags of mulch to cover your garden for the winter. Don’t bother! Use the resources around you. Cover up your hard work with leaves and/or pine needles. This will save you a trip to the store and a little bit of money as well!
In the spring, when you’re ready to start planting, scrape off your leaves and pine needles, fluff up your soil with a little garden hoe action, and decide which veggies you want to plant and enjoy!
Want to get even more gardening in your life? We volunteer every year with local community gardens, like Hands On Nashville’s Urban Farm and the gardens managed by the Nashville Food Project. We also partner with Urban Green Lab to host gardening-related workshops as part of our Engage Green Sustainability Series. You can see pictures of our most recent community garden volunteer day here and one of our gardening workshops here!
– Keeley (Team Green’s Director and Resident Gardening Expert)