How to Prepare Your Vegetable Garden for a Harsh Winter

According to Game of Thrones fans everywhere, winter is coming. And while this may mean snowmen, Christmas decorations and mulled wine for some, for the keen gardener it can mean fingernails bitten to the quick and sleepless nights worrying about cabbages.

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Image credit: vegetable garden

Well, maybe we wouldn’t go quite that far – but after all the effort you’ve put into your vegetables, you won’t want your hard work to go to waste for next year. Fear not – we’ve got a guide on how to make sure that your vegetable garden is both ready for next year and useful throughout winter. Here’s how…

Harvest

First things first, take in all of the vegetables that are ready to be harvested and make the most of them. Make sure that you cure and store your produce properly, and you might just end up with a stash that will last all winter long!

Clear out

After you’ve collected all of your delicious vegetables but before you get started on the chutney, it’s time to clear up your yard. If you’re tempted to put this job off, think of it as a treat for your future self when you’re planting more vegetables in the spring. You’ll be glad you put the groundwork in when May rolls around! While you’re there, prepare perennial vegetables for survival by removing old foliage and stems.

Make your garden useful throughout winter

Though it may seem like all plants are dead in winter, there are a few vegetables that will actually be ready for harvesting when it’s very cold outside, so with a little preparation and clever planting you can make your garden produce food until late in the season.

  • Carrots are actually sweeter when harvested after the frost. Plant them around late August or early September and cover them with straw for a little insulation.
  • Plant kale and collards in mid-August and harvest young leaves from October onwards.
  • It’s best to plant Spinach around four to six weeks before the first frost of winter – again, cover with straw, then harvest in late winter or early spring.
  • November is the ideal time to plant overwintering onions.
  • Don’t have space in the pantry for all of your produce? Don’t worry – your garden can act as a fridge. Bury cabbages, with their roots still attached and a marker in the soil above so you don’t lose them, and dig them up when you fancy bubble and squeak. Potatoes and carrots will also keep when buried in the garden, but add some straw over the top to protect them.
  • Give your vegetables lots of compost and a layer of mulch, for nutrients and protection. And, while the soil is a great protector for vegetables – especially root vegetables – it won’t hurt to give them a little water before a big freeze, when it may be difficult for your plants to reach water. However, be wary of over-watering, which can lead to cold, soggy roots and very unhappy plants.

Plant a cover crop

You may not be using your whole garden to grow overwintering vegetables, so to keep your soil ship shape and ready for spring it’s a good idea to plant a cover crop such as buckwheat or rye. These plants will suppress weed growth, feed bees and keep soil in place, then they’ll act as a ‘green manure’ for your garden by breaking down and providing your soil with lots of lovely nutrients.

About The Author

This guest post was written by Ricky Peterson. Ricky is a keen gardener and loves spending time outdoors, he works at Swallow Aquatics, who sell various pond and garden supplies. Ricky also likes to travel and loves hiking and climbing.

Smart Garden Tools Need Smart Storage

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There’s nothing more gratifying on a sunny winter’s morning than going to the basement or garage and stepping on a rake.  Yes, the joy of watching that well-worn hickory handle swing up and catch you right in the coffee cup (and then the nose) is an experience underappreciated by those who don’t garden.  But what really makes the experience is dumping that hot coffee onto one of your expensive circuit boards.

There’s nothing more gratifying on a sunny winter’s morning than going to the basement or garage and stepping on a rake.  Yes, the joy of watching that well-worn hickory handle swing up and catch you right in the coffee cup (and then the nose) is an experience underappreciated by those who don’t garden.  But what really makes the experience is dumping that hot coffee onto one of your expensive circuit boards.

Of course, that’s all purely facetious.  Unfortunately, it can be all too real for some of us who lack good storage space for our off-season garden needs – many residents in warmer, seasonal cities like Cincinnati struggle with effective organization and protection for their garden equipment.  For most of us, the only climate controlled storage we have is where we store ourselves–the ol’ hacienda. 

Shovels, cultivators, chemicals, and our own array of homemade tools accumulate quickly and have to go somewhere.  Plus, most people don’t want all those items underfoot for several months a year. So in general, we find a rain-resistant place to store everything outside, and maybe do a little rehab work come spring.

However, the smart gardener today uses the thinker as much as the tiller.  Greater technology in irrigation management, temperature monitoring, and humidity observations means that, at season’s end, we now have some very expensive and fragile equipment that needs someplace to go until the first light of spring. 

Scientific instruments like these can tolerate significant meteorological swings.  Store-bought ones will include advice on acceptable temperature and humidity ranges.  Those you’ve made at home will provide that information on the individual components you’ve bought.  And even within their accepted ranges, they all have issues with calibration.

Your hand tools shouldn’t be, well, left out in the cold either.  You may have hundreds of dollars’ worth of them, shivering in the December chill like Washington’s troops crossing the Delaware.  Keeping them in a warm place preserves your investment for the long haul. 

Your power equipment needs good care as well.  As smart as we garden now, we do still use the internal combustion engine quite a bit.  These aren’t as sensitive to cold and moisture as electronics, of course, but the guts of your tiller do not fare well if your 2012 gasoline is still in there in 2013. 

The best thing to do?  You can buy gas stabilizer and pour it in the tank, or simply run the machine during its last use of the season until it is out of gas.  You can till something, or just stand there and let it run. The same goes for string trimmers, mowers, pressure washers, and all gas-powered machinery.

Good climate controlled storage can also allow you to grow produce year-round, if you take a few steps to plan for it.  Apart from the delicious outcomes, you will also find yourself in a horticultural state of mind all year.  That makes you a more curious and creative gardener.

So take those cool fall days as the last vines are drying and organize some available space in your home to preserve your tools, nurture your plants, and protect your feet.

Doing a Garden Makeover or Building from Scratch? Here are the Tools You’ll Need

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The first tool, and perhaps the most important tool for any project, is a solid plan of action. The list of tools needed for a garden makeover or for building a garden from scratch will change slightly depending on your plan. The term garden encompasses many different outcomes.

This article focuses on the tools needed to build a vegetable garden. Plan your garden in accords with what you consume and with ideas that suite plants that grow in your area. Consider seasonal changes and whether or not your garden will need a greenhouse or a hoop house for extending your gardens growing season.

Giving your garden shape:

The second set of tools that are important are a ball of twine and marking stakes. These two tools allow your garden to move from one dimensional planning into a three dimensional form. Stake out the area that will become your garden and then stake out any features that you might consider putting into the garden. These may include raised beds, pathways, irrigation/hose bibs, a greenhouse, and a planting table. Using twine and stakes allows the gardener to see exactly how space is going to be used, and it breaks up a large project into manageable pieces.

Implementing Garden Elements:

The third set of tools that you will need to focus on are the tools that will actually help you begin to create the elements that make up your garden plan.

If you are creating raised beds than you will need a saw, a drill, and wrenches/hammer for fastening the wood pieces together. You might also consider buying a raised garden bed kit.

If your garden plan calls for an in-ground garden, then you will need a sturdy shovel and perhaps a tiller for turning the earth. It is also recommended that you use a soil screen and a wheelbarrow for sifting the soil. Most experts agree that an in-ground garden needs to be dug down to a minimum of 18 inches. Expert gardens may dig down to 2 feet and replace the bottom six inches of soil with compost/manure.

Sifting the soil helps to promote root growth from plants, especially root crops such as carrots and potatoes. Note: Even with a tiller, a shovel is still needed to dig down deep enough to create a productive in-ground garden. For raised beds do not forget to factor in the cost of soil, to fill them. Long term projects can recycle aged compost in to new beds to help build up soil levels over time. This is not only free it improves soil composition for plants. If your garden plan calls for yearly expansion, then consider building the raised beds first, planting a cover crop and using garden produced compost to fill them over time.

Standard Garden tools:

A sturdy wheelbarrow, shovel, hoe, a bow rake, and hand tools for weeding amid your vegetables are all that are necessary for maintaining a garden. This means that the cost of buying tools to start a garden is a relatively low cost investment. Even the creation of a compost-system can be done free of charge. It is a wonder that more people do not take up gardening as both a means of producing food and as a hobby.

After all, nothing is a better return on your time investment than a vegetable garden. It continues to produce regardless of the economy, and when recession hits, its value outshines even the best investment.

About the Author: Thad works with O’Connor’s Lawn—Your source for riding lawn mowers . Thad is an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys writing about landscaping and lawn care.