Prepped box for winter

prepped-garden-box-for-winterI just pushed about 3 inches of soil over, filled it with fall leaves and pushed the soil back on top. You won’t see the leaves-they are covered with soil. And you won’t see the leaves come spring time either. This is a great way to prepare your soil for the next growing season.

It takes about 5 minutes per box to do this. When spring arrives all you need to do is cover your boxes with plastic to heat the soil up. Even after a very hard winter season, your soil will be ready to plant in about one week.

If you were to turn your soil and look for leaves at that time, they’ll probably be gone. They are eaten and “mulched” into fertilizer by our friendly earthworms

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Prepare now for a successful 2017 gardening season

img_0434As the actual work finishes up for me in late fall, I’ve always used this time to prepare for the next growing season. It’s an easy process and will reap huge dividends next spring.  

I like to gather as many bags of leaves from my property as I can. I’ll end up with 10-12 bags by the time I’m done raking, which is perfect for my gardening needs. The majority are use in the composting process as a great brown material, but some will be used as a mulch to keep the soil cooler when growing summer lettuces. Some will be used to amend the existing soil. I keep my bags closed off for the winter storage. I don’t want any moisture getting into the bags because it makes a soggy mess come spring. I end up putting all my bagged leaves under a plastic cover so I don’t have to worry about it. When I need a bag of leaves during the growing season they’re in perfect shape for my uses. They are completely dried out and crumble into pieces very easily.

In each of my square foot garden boxes I will push over about 3 inches of soil. I then spread a layer of fall leaves over the entire surface, and then cover up the leaves with the soil I originally moved over. By the time spring arrives you’ll usually find no leaves at all when you dig down. The reason? Earthworms. You end up adding a great ingredient to your soil that will set you up for success next year.

Years ago, when I didn’t have any trees or leaves produced on my property, I ended up asking the neighbors for theirs. They always said yes. There’s always a way to get free leaves if you can’t produce enough from your property.     &nbsp

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Tatsoi-a great winter garden crop

img_0421This is tatsoi-a very tasty and fairly easy to grow Asian green. I’ve tried very hard to get the timing down so that all my winter crops will be about 75-80% of full size by November 14th. On this date in zone 6 the sunlight hours dip below 10 hours a day and everything stops growing and hibernates until about the first week of February.
This green can be stir-fried but I like to use it as is in a mesclun mix during the winter months. I would describe the taste as firm and a little on the sweet side. One thing for sure-it doesn’t do well in warm weather.
With the holidays just around the corner isn’t it time to start thinking about some great gardening gifts? I’m going to put up an ad for grow-bags.  I used the GardenMate brand shown on the side of my blog.   This is the first year I’ve used them and I was very impressed. With two side handles they can be moved around because they aren’t too heavy. The crops don’t dry out like plastic containers. They can be cleaned at the end of the season(don’t put them in the dryer), and reused the following spring. I’ve used the 15 gallon, the 5 gallon, and the 1 gallon grow bags. Right now I’ve got a very successful brussel sprout plant growing in a 5 gallon grow bag. I’ve got about 25 pounds, maybe more, of red pontiac potatoes being stored in a 15 gallon bag.
Using grow bags saves me a lot of room in my square foot gardens. It opens up needed space to use for crops that are sold during the normal growing season.  Though I’ve normally grown potatoes in my square foot gardens, I now can use grow bags and not tie up squares for 4 months.
Go ahead-give them a look. Buy them for family members who want to garden but simply don’t have the room. They will love these. And you can buy 3 of them packaged together for a ridiculously low price. I’ll be talking more about grow bags during the winter months. It’s been a lot of fun experimenting with them this year.

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Are you composting during the winter months?

compost-with-shredded-paperThis will probably be my last post of the year about composting.  I spend a lot of time on it because I think it’s important and one of the biggest reasons for the success I’ve had as a square foot gardener.  In the northern parts of the U.S. where winters are harsh it’s still a great idea to use the winter months to collect material to add in the compost unit even though you’re not actively composting.  During the warmer months it’s important to keep your compost damp-like a rung out sponge.  That changes during the winter months.

The goal of the bin at this time is to be ready to make compost as early as possible in the spring.  It’s too late now to make a finished batch of compost.  If you water your compost bins now as you do during the warmer months, the freezing temperatures will turn your bins into ice cubes.  It will take a lot longer to thaw compost piles out come spring when that happens.

I make sure to only add material during winter.  When its time to begin actively working the compost in late February, I don’t have to worry at all about waiting for it to thaw. It’s ready to be turned and aerated.  An important item is to have a nice compost unit to store material.  I’ve had mine for 16 years and I think I bought it for $35.  Its made out of a solid piece of hard plastic.  Its got a nice to for removal and 2 access doors.  I’ve had folks ask me where I got mine and they can be hard to find.  Sure, there are others, but I love mine.  Whatever you do, try to avoid the spinning ones.  I’ve got a strong bias against using those for reasons I can explain later.  I was able to find my exact compost unit through Amazon.  It’s a lot more expensive, but its the right one.  I’ve linked the compost bin on my blog.  I hate to even think about it, but what about a Christmas gift?  These are nice looking units that hold up well and don’t break down.  Give it some thought.

As I removed the top of the bin last week it smelled a little bit like a sewer.  Not that strong, but a little bit. This tells me that its too moist and too much green material. Having used up all my leaves from last fall, I had to find a suitable brown material, which I did in the form of shredded paper.  The pile is now back to a neutral smell.  The senses of sight and smell can really guide you when making compost.

Use this time to gather as much material as you can.  Come spring, you will be glad you did

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Finished compost

finished-compost-092816I’m almost done making compost for the year. There’s one more unit that should be done in the next 3-4 weeks which will easily leave me with enough compost for winter and next spring.

When you learn how to make your own compost with free material coming out of your kitchen and yard you’ll realize that you can’t buy it as good as you can make it. Its an easy process and when done correctly only takes 6 weeks to produce. You have to work it every day, but the end result is excellent.

The time to make and complete a batch of compost is quickly coming to an end for the year in our zone. In a matter of weeks the first frost and cold weather arrives. For me, this marks the time when I no longer will add any water to the compost bin, and I’ll use the winter months to do nothing but collect greens. In fact, when I fill my other bin with greens, shrub clippings, and leaves, I wont add any water at all.

Here’s something you can do right now. Bag, collect, and keep your leaves! As many as you can! This is used for a brown ingredient, which is difficult to find in the quantities you need when spring gets here. We usually have no problem collecting the greens, but brown material is the challenge. Make sure you cover them up. Don’t let moisture get into the small opening. It will mat things down and make a big mess.

By doing this you’ll be set up to have success next spring. You won’t have to go hunting around for brown material because you’ll already have it.

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