On late fall garden tasks

P1010769Little Edie for scale:  bean bed with monster weeds

November!  It’s time for stews, simmering stock and lots of roasts. It’s also my last chance to put the garden to bed.

We have about a month before we can expect snow in earnest, which is good:  that garden is still a weedy mess, I confess.  Despite my usual routine of grass mulch and close plantings, the perennial weeds like dandelion and thin-leaved plantain will take hold between plants, and it is only now that the plants are gone that I notice.  So I am on a rigid routine of hand-weeding beds and paths, about 6 a day, before I cover them deeply in compost and grass clippings and leaf mulch.  All 26 outdoor beds will be covered about 5-6″ thick with this stuff, and some beds, like the cardoon/artichoke beds, will be covered by a foot or more.

Deep cover on the beds serves two purposes.  One, for the beds with winter crops on them (leeks, root veggies), the mulch prevents frost from settling in deeply…at least for a while.  The second reason for deep mulch is for the benefit of the soil itself.  The worms and other creatures will consume the mulch, tunneling through it, tilling it into the soil.  My thick soil has vastly improved these five years by doing this one thing:  mulching in fall, slightly tilling in the remaining mulch in the spring.

The best possible scenario is we get a few light frosts between now and mid-December and THEN blammo we get a foot and a half of snow, which most likely will remain (and get deeper) for the rest of the winter.  The mulch will stay in place that way.  Wait:  did I just say I want it to snow?

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7 responses to “On late fall garden tasks

  1. I want snow too, but not for another 7 weeks.

    Just finishing the last big harvest here, and now on to cleaning up, and mulching for winter. And starting to redo some of the beds which are not optimally placed nor sized (wondered how that happened?)

  2. Such a different set of tasks per season. Your method sounds like a terrific one — working well with nature, with only a reasonable amount of effort on your part. I have to deal with weeds this week. No one is going to seed in my garden this year!

  3. Sylvie, good; glad to know I am not the only one wishing for snow. I like your new tunnels! Let us know how well they grow. I still need to harvest all our peppers poor chilly things. Maybe it’s time to make chili! I suppose you’re making lots of venison chili now.

    Stef I always tell the weeds not to go to seed and obviously they listen to me very well. But yes, I try to find shortcuts, or rather, not repeat my steps for doing certain things. Keeping the beds covered at all times keeps our clay soil nice and workable for bugs and plants and gardeners…and hopefully the weeds won’t take hold. Maybe I was just a bit too busy this year. Hmm. Anyway, glad to see your squash harvest went well: seems you got bitten by the squash bug?

  4. Next year will be my first year in a home big enough to have serious garden beds. I tilled the ground deeply just after moving in a few weeks ago, then covered the beds with landscaping fabric. My thinking was that, after a winter under the fabric, not a single weed would be present come the spring. Never underestimate the tenacity of weeds. The gray fabric let through enough light that some germinated and were growing. Luckily, we had just mowed the yard and left the clippings for hay, so I raked nearly the entire yard’s worth of hay to get enough to mulch the beds.

    I came up with this crazy idea pretty much out of the blue, so it’s kind of vindicating to read your post, talking about doing the same thing.

    • Joshua, congratulations to you!!! Fall is the absolute best time to make new beds. (Second best is exactly when you need them, and generally that is when I make ours, lacking the foresight in fall.) And yes: mulchmulchmulch. You might be interested in looking into Ruth Stout’s method of bed-making, which has been relabeled “lasagna bed making,” wherein she sets down anything that can decompose (newspapers or flattened cardboard, leaves, grass clippings, manure, etc.) and just leaves it there, letting it become your bed in the spring. I am a bit more fussy than that, but it is a great way to start a bed if you don’t till (though I know you did) and just want to kill a patch of grass.

      • My partner, Issa, is mostly taking charge of our composting, so I’m a little ignorant, but what she told me was that un-finished compost wasn’t good to add at least in part because it had the wrong pH (too acidic) for plants. Certainly, putting un-composted organic matter directly into the beds is one fewer step than composting it and then tilling it in, but what’s the down-side?

        Thinking about it now, I suppose that one benefit of composting is that the nutrients are more evenly mixed, during the turning process. If we pour in a bunch of wood ash and then a bunch of manure and then a bunch of sawdust, that can all mix up, whereas if I was putting it directly on the beds, there might not be enough to spread around evenly, and it might be pretty hard to make sure that each part of the bed was getting the right mix of nutrients.

  5. Hello! I have been poking around looking at different blogs because I am curious and also a bit of a homesteader/hermit. I was reading this post and you are talking about the “weeds” growing in your beds. I absolutely had to hurry up and write. Those dandelion leaves are perfect in a salad and a great tonic herb spring,, summer and fall! and the plantain you can add to you calendula salve, it has great healing properties, my children already know to chew a plantain leaf when stung by a bee and put the mash onto the sting site to reduce swelling and eliminate the pain. OK, i will not step off my soapbox and thank you for a great read and wonderful pictures, I am coming away from this with many ideas and new thoughts!
    Rebecca

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