Explore the Garden

Preparing for winter: Keep planting!

Thursday, November 09, 2017
by Tom Bryan | Greenhouse Manager at GreenHouse Learning Community

Fall isn’t all about harvesting. You may be tired from all the summer work, hauling in piles of pumpkins and pecks of peppers. Alas, your vegetable garden (and the weeds!) will keep growing. Over my years managing the ½-acre GreenHouse Learning Community Garden in Eagle Heights, we have come up with many fall tasks to keep our 90+ undergraduate residents engaged in the garden before winter (and midterms) hit. Plus, most of these tasks do double-duty by preventing weeds from establishing.

First up, planting garlic. My all-time favorite crop. Somehow, planting garlic in mid-to-late October makes the impending darkness of winter seem more hospitable for me. Plant as you would most other bulbs: with papery coatings intact, good and deep, maybe a touch of slow-release fertilizer, then tuck in with some thick mulch. If you still have the energy after planting, now’s a good time to cover the rest of your beds with thick mulch too. Soon enough, the garlic will emerge to greet spring.

 March 22, 2017. Emerging garlic leaves.

March 22, 2017. Emerging garlic leaves.

 Next up, the walkways. Our garden has roughly 3-foot wide beds with 1-foot wide turf-y aisles between each bed. I seed a mix of fescues, ryegrasses, and clovers into the aisles. This time of year, I cut it short with my trusty weed whacker and then sprinkle in mixed seed. A driving philosophy in our garden is to have roots growing wherever we can and mulch wherever we can’t. No bare soil. 

 September 25, 2017. Broccoli in beds, grasses and clover in aisles

September 25, 2017. Broccoli in beds, grasses and clover in aisles

Finally, something you can grow all winter and eat in the spring: onions! We roughly follow University of New Hampshire Extension’s guidelines (links below) and have had success for several years in-a-row. Unfortunately, the planting window for this technique has passed. So, look forward to seeding onions in mid-August, transplanting about a month later, then tucking in with heavy-weight covers. We use Agribon-70 and a layer of high-tunnel plastic, stretched across the hoops with sandbags. If some of your fall crops need just a few more weeks to mature despite impending hard frosts, this sneaky technique should get you there.  Many other crops can be overwintered (or grown for eating in winter) with this technique. Again, see UNH Extension publications below.

 December 8, 2016. Onions untucked from under the hoops on a warm, sunny day.

December 8, 2016. Onions untucked from under the hoops on a warm, sunny day.

 In the background of the photo, you can see some ankle-high rows of winter rye and hairy vetch. I seed them up through mid-October. They will survive Wisconsin winters uncovered and grow vigorously in spring. We cut them once the rye blooms (here comes that trusty weed whacker again!) and use the dried rye straw to mulch our freshly-planted potatoes. If you cut earlier, the rye tends to regrow.

 May 15, 2016. Rye flowering and starting to set seed

May 15, 2016. Rye flowering and starting to set seed

Even further in the background of the photo—under the other row of metal hoops—is another cover crop. The field peas, oats and tillage radishes are wilting after a few frosts. They won’t survive the winter but will decompose leaving the soil ultra-friable in spring.

 May 8, 2016. Me proud of the winter rye and hairy vetch.  

May 8, 2016. Me proud of the winter rye and hairy vetch.

 Happy fall planting!

Tags: Garden Display and Design, Green Initiatives

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