The Dog Days of Winter




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The abundant harvests of summer have come and gone; the days have grown shorter and colder.  That is right, winter has arrived.  For a lot of us that means that our days are spent staring out into the once flourishing garden dreaming of spring.  We cannot wait until we can once again dig in the dirt, smell the one of a kind fragrance of fresh cut flowers or a tomato plant.  Winter brings with it a sense of rest for the garden and for us. With that being said there are many things we can do now in order to prepare our garden for the spring right now.

First, any plants that are no longer producing can be pulled to make way to prepare the soil for spring planting.  No matter whether you grow in raised beds, containers or an in-ground plot; your soil will need some amending to ensure happy healthy plants in the next season. Your garden needs a good nutrient rich soil in order to grow and thrive.  What is nutrient rich?  Nutrient rich means that your soil has an abundance of organic matter and the necessary minerals that your plants need.  Well, how do I go about building my soil into black gold?  There is a wealth of items you can add to condition your soil some of which are store bought supplements natural and made.  Organic or inorganic?  That is completely up to you because it is your garden.  Normally I go with the all natural way but this year I have decided to do a “test” garden using synthetic fertilizers so that I can accurately recommend a non-organic fertilizer for those of you that choose that route.  This test garden will be a series of containers who will only receive synthetic fertilizers while other containers will receive compost tea (more on this trial to come).

The next step is to feed up your soil by figuring out what it needs.  You can take a sample of your soil down to your local Agriculture Extension office.  They will test your soil for a small fee and provide you with a print out of the contents of your soil in addition what your soil may be lacking.  There are those that absolutely stand by having your soil tested but this step is completely up to you.  If you are just starting out then I would recommend having your soil tested to save time adding amendments.  Now, that you know what your soil is lacking then you can start adding those things to build your soil.

Also Read:  Planning your Garden Pt: 1

This raised bed did not fare too well this past spring due to a few reasons.  It was shaded by a neighbor’s tree for while each day, the soil was in need of some ingredients and because of that the harvest was lacking.

raised bed turned over

I started by turning the soil over to about 12″ and then added some mulched up leaves from a neighbors’ yard (free resource).  Turning the soil over will loosen up the soil to encourage stronger deeper roots while the leaves will start to break down and invite the worms into the bed to aid in the composting.  The worms will eat the leaves breaking it down and leave worm castings behind to feed the plants during its next planting.  Worm castings are nutrients but also contains important beneficial microbes needed to build a living soil to make plants thrive.  I also added a garden cart of homemade compost, 40 lbs. mushroom compost, organic fertilizer and some Azomite Rock Dust which will add the trace minerals back into the soil.

raised bed

This bed is all amended and will lay fallow until the spring planting.

The second thing you can do during those harsh winter months is access what worked and what did not work in your spring/summer vegetable garden.  In every climate, every garden and every year there are things that you try that will work and others that do not work. Gardening contains a learning curve that is always changing and we must continually learn and adapt to our garden’s needs.  One of the best things about growing your own food is that there is always something new to learn, some new technique that can be tried in order to improve your yield.  Make a list of ideas that worked and things that did not work.  This list can essentially be anything from what types of vegetables grew well, garden locations that had good sun exposure, types of garden pests and the list can go on.

For example, in my garden this year I learned several things.  First, I grew two types of Okra this spring/summer both Clemson Spineless and Burgundy in multiple spots in my garden.  I grew the Clemson Spineless in both a raised bed in the backyard and in an in-ground patch along the side of my house.  The Okra that was planted in the plot beside the house received sun practically all day whereas the raised bed had minimal shading in the afternoon. The plot Okra grew gang-busters because I was harvesting a bowl full every 2 day off of 10 plants where the Okra in the raised bed only grew to be 15″ tall and only produced 1 or 2 pods every week or so.  Knowing this I will plant the Okra in the in-ground plot and plant a shade tolerant plant in the raised bed for optimal harvests.  I recommend keeping a garden journal of your findings.  Journals can be purchased from stores, online or even be homemade.

Also Read:  Why organic gardening?

Now, that you have your list of what worked and didn’t work you can make a list of goals for the next planting season.  Do you want to grow more?  Do you want better production from a particular veggie? Or just want to make things easier?  What are your goals for this spring?

I have made a list of goals for my veggie patch for 2016 to give you some ideas.  Remember that your list might be completely different.

2016- Goals

  1. Grow more food- To do this I plan on using a couple of methods in addition to what I am already doing.  I will plant in root pouches, air pruning bags, grow vegetables in my front yard as well as my entry way by the front door and finally want to grow more things vertically to maximize my space.
  2. Save more seeds- I have been growing a garden for several years but always have to buy seeds and that is no easy or cheap thing to do for a garden this size.  I plan on growing enough this year to give more away but also enough to be able to save enough seeds to plant my entire garden next year but also enough to share with local schools and friends.
  3. Grow and try more unique heirlooms- There are thousands of types of heirlooms out there for us to try and enjoy.  They have survived a number of years and we should do our part to help carry them on for future generations.
  4. Start Vermi-composting- Worm castings are the black gold that everyone is always talking about.  They are one of the best things you can add to your garden.  The reason is the castings contain loads of beneficial microbes that rejuvenate your garden soil.  You can produce these castings at your house by building a simple worm farm.

This is my goals for 2016, I hope I have inspired you to make goals of your own to improve your gardening.  Please feel free to share some of your goals here for other readers.  Until next time.






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Hi, I’m John.

John grew up on a farm where his family raised chickens, goats, rabbits, and grew a huge garden. John has a family of his own and gardens to know where his food comes from. Learn more..