Friday, September 21, 2012

Preparing your garden for the Winter

Even though a lot of the world is still lucky enough to have pretty warm weather, in the Northern US and in Canada many places have now started to experience their first frosts, and all too soon it will be winter.  If you have a garden, there are a few things you need to do to "put it to bed" in preparation for it's long Winter sleep. (Image from )

First, you want to protect what crops you have left.  If most of your days are still warm and you just have a few frosty nights, you can help your crops make it through by covering them.  There are light floating row covers available in most gardening centres.  These look a lot like oversized cheesecloth and are very light.  You just lay these on top of your plants at night and then remove them in the morning once it starts to warm up.

The way these covers work is that they gently cover your plants without adding a lot of weight, so they are perfect to use for row plants such as salad greens, however to protect climbing plants and other tall plants there are other methods you can use.

To protect your tomatoes, you can use large plastic garbage bags as shown in this example from . Just cut a few slits to let in some air.  Cut down your plants so they fit within the tomato cages, then just slip the plastic bags over the cages each evening and remove them in the morning before it starts to heat up again.

To protect larger plants and bushes you can also tuck floating row covers around them.  Just make sure you secure the cover with something - clothes pins work well here -  so it doesn't blow away.

Taking these precautionary measures can extend your growing period, sometimes by several weeks. Because often you get a few really cold nights, then a long period of "Indian Summer" when the weather warms up and is beautiful, it's nice to be able to enjoy these last remaining warm days and know your garden is protected.

But eventually the days get colder and colder and at that point it's time to "close up shop".  If you still have lots of green tomatoes on your plants, bring them in and put them in a sunny window, as shown here at (They also have a great recipe for green tomato chutney) There they will continue to ripen a few at a time so you will be able to enjoy your harvest that much longer.

If you have more than you could use at one time, you can also store them.  Place the tomatoes in a paper lined box in a cold room or in your basement.  Check them every day or two to make sure none have gone bad, and to remove the ones that have ripened.  Some will ripen faster, some slower, and this can really extend your crop for a long time.  Stored in this way I have often been able to eat tomatoes from my garden until just before Christmas.

As for the rest of your garden, now is the time to pull out all the annual plants and clean up your beds.  The work you do now will save you a lot of work in the Spring.  If you have perennial plants such as herbs, here is a good trick.  When you are racking the leaves off your lawn, sprinkle a layer on your cleared growing bed and around your perennials.  (About 3 to 6 inches thick) This will help insulate their roots and insure that they make it through the winter.

It will also protect the soil in the rest of your vegetable garden from getting blown away during any storms.  Over the winter the leaves will rot.  In the spring you can then just dig them into your beds where they will produce for you a terrific organic compost - the best fertilizer you can get.

Taking a few simple steps now to protect the rest of your crops and to get your garden cleaned up (as in this example from will ensure that you reap the full benefits of all your hard work and make it a lot easier for you to get started again once those warm spring days come around.

 “Life isn't about finding yourself.  Life is about creating yourself.”   - George Bernard Shaw

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