Late autumn/Early Winter is an ideal time to prepare your garden for the spring season to come. Many gardeners consider this season, the beginning of Spring, because what you
do or don’t do now, will be reflected in your garden next year.
For many of you, your fall/winter garden may just be part of your annual garden cycle. Either way, this is the time of the year to work on your soil, clean up beds, cut-back blackened stems and foliage and dead-head flowers. All this, helps prevent the possibility of harboring disease pathogens and insect eggs, over the winter. Another simple tip on preventing spreading pathogens is simply by not leaving the hose nozzle on the ground!
As winter approaches, there are many preparations to do in order to put your garden to bed, until late winter. Weed, weed, weed … by stopping weeds from spreading now, you will save yourself a lot of backache come spring. Since the ground is moist, weeding couldn’t be easier. While weeding, make sure that the root structure of your winter garden is not being compromised.
Once your beds have cleared, adding leaf mulch, specifically oak leaf, would be ideal. Avoid redwood, eucalyptus, bay and pine leaves for their acidic content. Cover your beds with 6 inches of lightweight mulch and fork that in a bit. For added nutrients, add compost underneath and work it in before adding the leaves. This thin cover will serve as the ideal winter layer to protect your plants, soil and roots. Though our ground does not freeze, this extra layer will begin breaking down and become organic matter for your spring and summer plantings.
As you are cutting back and dead-heading, this is an optimal time to work your compost pile. Remember to not throw in weed seeds or anything that may be diseased. Hot, active piles kill weed seeds and disease pathogens, but you need to have a compost thermometer to be assured your pile reaches 150 degrees or beyond.
A great way to add more organic matter to you soil is by cutting the annuals at their base and leaving the roots there to decompose over the course of time. Snip off the seed heads and sprinkle them around your garden.
How is your soil? The more fertile and aerated your soil is, the more hydration it will be able to receive. Know the texture of your soil, what it is made of, its structure and how it behaves. Knowing these qualities will help address the needs of your soil. With all the rain we have been receiving, it behooves us to be able to prepare our soil to receive as much moisture as possible. Adding mulch and wood chips can significantly help prevent runoff and erosion.
As the rains come down observe how the water travels in your yard, garden and around your house. Slowing water down while sinking it into the water table are ideal methods to maximize water penetration into the earth. Integrating burms into your landscape is a more project intensive solution, but could offer an excellent solution to direct and sink rainwater into the ground. Keep in mind that working deep into the soil, while it is still very wet, can be destructive to the soil structure. Wait until the earth has dried before starting any project.
Rain barrels are another easy way to collect all the water that we are receiving these days. They are easily found and simply to install. If you are handy, you can build one out of a range of materials.
These days are perfect to set the stage for a beautiful spring and summer garden to come!
The Living Seed Company is an organic and heirloom seed company based in Point Reyes Station. As a Bay Area seed company.
With California experiencing one of the most severe droughts on record and Governor Brown having declared a state of emergency, it is no wonder many gardeners have decided to let their gardens go fallow this year. The only problem with that philosophy is that by planting a garden this year, could be one of the wisest thing gardeners can do, to actually save water. There is a misunderstanding that growing a garden takes a lot of water. On the contrary, gardens when done properly, do not require much water at all.
The irony, in this misnomer, is that factory farms and large farming operations, intensely and often improperly use water to not only irrigate crops, but also to wash and prepare veggies for market. A backyard garden would use a dramatically less amount of water to grow and wash the same vegetables.
In the shadows on this drought, it is also estimated that food prices are on the rise. With California being one of the largest global producers of vegetables, fruits and nuts, it is only natural that prices will reflect the effects of this drought. It is also speculated that it will have a two-year impact on tree crops, such as fruit and nuts, since its takes these crops longer to recover from the drought.
Despite the surge in the fresh fruit … and ongoing concerns regarding the effect of the California drought, farm-level fruit prices fell 6.8 percent in March, and farm vegetable prices rose 1 percent. The timing of the effects of the drought on prices … depends heavily on the harvest period for each
commodity; such effects may not occur until the Summer or Fall of 2014.
This forecast is based on an assumption of normal weather conditions; however, severe weather events could potentially drive up food prices beyond the current forecasts. In particular, the ongoing drought in California could potentially have large and lasting effects on fruit, vegetable, dairy, and egg prices …
By integrating a drip system in your own garden, you are not only effectively watering your plants, by targeting their roots, but you are also using a system that conserves water. Not all gardens will have the ability to have drip installed, but there are further alternatives in water technology to be water wise. Not all nozzles are created equal. Using nozzles that properly aerate and distribute water can be a simple solution for those who enjoy hand watering their gardens.
Consider collecting the water, that is wasted, when you are waiting for the water to heat up to water your garden. Do you have aerators on your kitchen and bathroom faucets? Another simple water saving solution under $2.
Think of your stormwater and greywater, are you properly managing the water on your property? These days, installing rain barrels to a downspout is a simple and cost-effective solution to re-purpose our rainwater. Creating burms and swales helps navigate our storm water from ever even leaving our property and allowing it to properly be retained in the soil and replenish our water tables. Rerouting the waste water from your washing machine is another effective solution to water your trees. Best to use biodegradable detergents and naturally based detergents, if you are considering this option or are already implementing it.
Building soil in your garden is the key to healthier crops, better water retention and drainage, better soil structure and less susceptibility to pests and disease. Healthy soil is the foundation of every garden and farm.
There are many simple cost-effective ways to add organic matter into your garden, such as planting a cover crop in the fall and using it as green manure. Other simple ways are sheet mulching, adding compost and integrating well-rotted manure. Mulching is another excellent way of building organic matter, suppressing weeds, preventing rain compaction, but most of all, it will retail moisture in the soil. There are many types of mulch, anything from grass clippings to leaves (oak leaves in particular make an excellent mulch). If you choose to buy your mulch and wanting to buy straw, make sure that you are buying straw and not hay. Hay will have seedheads that eventually will sprout in your garden. Maintain the 5% – 6% organic matter rule, as too much of it can over stimulate the microorganisms in the soil which can cause soil fertility to decline.
Soil that is properly tended, without chemicals and with the microbiology of the underground flora in mind will support and replenish water tables.
Saving seed this year is going to be another simple step in adapting, your vegetables to be being able to thrive on less water, if you replant them year after year. The more you save and adapt your seeds, the more resistant the seeds will be to pests and disease and adapted to your specific local climate and soil. In turn, if there is inclement weather, your crops are more likely to be resilient and able to properly respond to changes, such as drought.
Another way to save water in your garden or farm is to start exploring dry farming. With a long history, Mediterranean countries have been dry farming olives and grapes for thousands of years, producing some of the finest wines and olive oils. It is the process of establishing your crop, on the onset with irrigation and then removing it. This stress causes the plant to reach deep into the water table to find its water and re-hydrate itself. What happens in the process is that by restricting the water intake, the fruits have less water content, this naturally raises their sugar content as well as other enhancing flavor compounds, creating scrumptious fruits and vegetables.
If dry farming interests you, there things to keep in mind. You should know your water table levels, be assured that the plants you plan on dry farming are more drought resistant and lastly dry farm from the beginning. Varieties that thrive in this method are grapes, olives, pumpkins, melons, tomatoes, garbanzos, apricots, apples, grains, potatoes, watermelons, cantaloupes and winter squash.
This may be the beginning of seeing the possibilities of growing food in a year of drought, while also empowering you to take a deeper look at where water conservation techniques can be integrated in your home, whether you own or not.
Many people have misconceived notions about soil, it is usually associated with words such as something being dirty or soiled. An inaccurate correlation to an element of our life that is so critical and and that is such a dependent element to our survival. Healthy soil goes hand in hand with a healthy environment.
“The nation that destroys its soil – destroys itself” (Roosevelt 1937)
The first and most important step in improving soil health is to recognize that soil is a living organism and all parts of our ecosystem depend on it – it is vital to our survival, the growth of our food and maintenance of our ecology.
There are billions of microorganisms that make up a whole network below ground. In one spoonful there are 600 million bacteria! Imagine that – there is an entire network of life below the ground, right underneath our toes. A network that works together with the trees, the plants, the fungus and so much more, all to be able to sustain life above ground for us – amazing!
Soil, for example, is the measure of the health of biological systems. In other words, soil is the metaphor of our environment, if we have healthy soil we have a healthy environment. Annually, we are losing 1 percent of our topsoil per year, due to industrial agriculture, the process of mono-cropping, heavy chemical use and erosion of our soils. Just to put things into perspective – it takes thousands of years to form one inch of topsoil.
Life in the soil provides the structure for more life, and the formation of more soil. Soil is equated to food and food is equated to life. The fertility and the quality of soil will determine the health and stability of all life that is relying on it – just as the health of each human being will determine fertility and the quality of their life.
The reality is that a simple way to help maintain healthy soil and manage waste in your home is by simply composting. In essence it is an excellent free resource of nutrients for our plants and the earth. It doesn’t smell, but mainly, it reduces the amount of waste going to a landfill, all are creating the fertile ground for a microcosm universe to exist and for soil sustainability to flourish! Don’t know where to start? Check out our simple DIY Urban Vermiculture Composting post!
We are all organisms working within one larger organism – called Planet Earth. Seeing on the micro and macro level, gives us a wider perspective into the many realms that are living in harmony here with us.