Thursday, December 10, 2015

Things You Can Do Now To Prep for Next Growing Season



Here in the northern hemisphere we are still not officially in winter. Even though there is a good bit of time before spring, I am already thinking about what we will add and grow next year. There are several things that we can do to improve our next harvest and increase our long-term food sovereignty.

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Cleaning up the garden bed


After the growing season has ended there is some cleanup that has to be done. Plants that have played out need to be removed. They can simply be cut off even with the ground. This will leave the roots in the ground that when they rot will add to the soil's structure. The vines and stems that have been removed can either be composted, shredded and used as a component in mulch or burned. 
The only time you shouldn't leave plants anywhere near your growing area is if the plants are diseased. If plants are diseased they should be pulled up roots and all and disposed of either in the garbage or by burning.

This is also the perfect time to remove tomato cages and stakes. Tomato cages may need to be cleaned and stacked up somewhere so they will last longer. Leaving wire cages in the ground will make them rust faster and shorten their usable lives considerably. The same is true for wooden or bamboo stakes. Simply by removing them from the ground and placing them somewhere out to the weather their lifespan is extended. While removing the infrastructure you will want to inspect each component. You may find that some of the pieces will need to be replaced. 
If you need to add to your garden infrastructure this is a good time to do so. You can find tomato cages and/or stakes an nearly everything else through either the yard sale pages on social media or through Craig's list. Now is the perfect time to look for bee boxes, garden tools, and really any type of equipment. Some people try gardening for the first time and decide that it is not for them. Other people will sell unused or unneeded equipment or supplies to help them pay for the holiday season.


Planning

It may seem early, but it isn't. For me this is the time of year where I think about how everything produced. What varieties did well, what didn't? For the varieties that didn't do well, is there something I could have done to give them a better opportunity to grow? Were they in the wrong place? Did these varieties get enough sunlight or water? 

Now is also the perfect time to think about whether or not you wish to expand or reduce your growing area. If you are planning on adding growing beds, where will you put them? What size will they be? What will you put in them? If you are going to be adding raised beds, doing so now will allow them time to get settled. If you are planning on adding garden space in the ground you can lay them out and begin preparation. 

How would I prep an in ground garden bed for next season? By starting now you can save yourself a lot of hard work next season. Placing plastic or tarps over the area where you are planning on planting next year will help you a lot. This will cause many of the weed and grass seeds to germinate and die throughout the season. This will reduce that amount of weeding that will be necessary next year. This is especially helpful if you are planning on working with a no till system. 

Now is also the time you can order your seed and nursery catalogs. To any hardcore gardener a seed or nursery catalog is as good as the old Sears Wish Book. I may be dating myself a little there. You can check out new varieties of fruits and veggies and see what you might want to try next season. Here is the link to request White Harvest's Catalog

Mulching

Last year I moved completely to no till gardening and I was very pleased with the results. Now is when I will be mulching the garden bed heavily. This is also a time of year when there is plenty of resources available to do the job. Fallen leaves make a great mulch and will gradually improve the soil as well. Mulched leaves are best, but just raking leaves and piling them in your garden spot will still help. Whole leaves should be piled 8 to 12 inches deep across your entire garden bed. Ground leaves should be about 4 inches deep. This will inhibit winter weed growth and will be a good base for your spring garden. These leaves will breakdown slowly. As it rains and snows then melts nutrients will slowly leach out of the leaves and into the soil. Doing this alone will improve the quality of your soil. This is especially important for people with heavy clay or sandy soil. The addition of organic matter will move both of these more toward the center and a much more fertile growing environment.

This is also a perfect time for a side business. People everywhere are trying to get rid of this very useful resource. If you live in or are close to an urban, suburban, or even semi rural area there are plenty of people who will pay to have their leaves removed. There will be a few that will want the leaves moved from their yard to their garden, but very few. With a little determination and a blower/vac/mulcher ,a teen or really anyone can turn this into a decent supplemental income. Just think, you could be being paid to obtain a resource that you want. 

What do you need to start this kind of seasonal business? Well, that depends on your area. There are some places that in order to do this you will have to have a business license. I will admit that drives me crazy. The government has to have their hand in everything it can get. Other areas all you have to do is have transportation, a rake and garbage bags or a mulcher. Place some fliers around and it won't take long before you are in business. You might even want to work an elderly neighbors yard for free in exchange for them telling their friends about your service. This can be not only good advertising, but also a good service to your community.




Planting Bare Root Trees


Winter is the best time to plant bare root trees as long as your soil isn't frozen. Bare root trees are bought when the trees are dormant. This means you don't have to be as careful with them. Bare root trees are typically less expensive than potted trees. These trees are normally available December through February. I have found that there is a larger selection of trees available as bare root. I think this may be because shipping is much easier. 

I myself have made my wishlist of fruit trees that I wish to plant this winter and have given them to a friend of mine who works with a nursery to see if they can get the varieties that I am looking for. Some of the varieties would be considered rare and all but 2 are very old, over 100 years since discovery. You can bet there will be several posts and podcasts about them in the future. 

Building Infrastructure


 Due to the reduction of homestead chores, this is a perfect time to build infrastructure. Again this is dependent on whether or not your soil is frozen. Fences, and outbuildings can be built now and be in place for the beginning of the next growing season. The shorter days do create some challenges that we do not have in the summer, but there are so many more things that need to be done in the growing season.

Equipment Maintenance and Repair


I cannot tell you how many times I have talked to a small engine repair person who has said that as soon as the growing season starts they cannot keep up with the workload. If you need to have your tiller, tractor, mower, or whatever serviced now is the perfect time and you won't be waiting while the grass grows or you are losing growing season because the repair guy is backed up.

Now is also a good time to clean up and care for your hand tools. Hoes, axes, and scythes may need to be sharpened. All wooden handles can be wiped down with boiled linseed oil.

As you can see there are several things that can be done in the winter, especially before the weather gets too bad or you have had too much rain or snow.

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