Putting the garden to bed for the winter

By Tom Seymour | Sep 27, 2019
Photo by: Tom Seymour Add compost to garden beds now.

Gardeners have much to do from now until the ground freezes and snow flies. What we do (or don’t do) now will greatly impact next year’s crops.

And though things are beginning to die back now, the battle against weeds continues. Of course, for those who have the inclination and also the ability to keep a garden weed-free, preparing the beds for next year will be a breeze. For the rest of us, there are several things to consider.

Much depends upon the kinds of weeds that infest our ground. Ideally, crabgrass, a universally despised weed, should never be allowed to gain a foothold. But here again, crabgrass is so pernicious that it seemingly crops up from out of nowhere.

So for the majority of gardeners, it is imperative to remove all traces of crabgrass now. Fortunately, the stuff has shallow roots, and crown and roots are easily removed with gentle hand pressure. Other weeds are equally shallow-rooted, but they also have the same tenacity and aggressiveness as crabgrass.

One, by far the most aggressive weed of all, galinsoga, or “quickweed,” is nearly impossible to eradicate. Unfortunately for me, some years ago I bought a load of composted cow manure from a local farmer. The stuff looked good and it proved a wonderful growing medium. But the bad news was, it wasn’t fully composted. Thus, it was full of viable seeds of quickweed, amaranth, lamb’s quarters, velvet weed and lady’s thumb. And now my gardens are filled with these invasive weeds.

All of the above weeds are edible and taste as good as many cultivated crops. But their proclivity to take over a garden bed puts them at the top of the undesirable list. Even worse, these weeds are of the kind that, once present, will always be present. Nothing but diligent weeding can control them.

Last year I tried a new tack in order to discourage weeds. I bought some black, woven tarp-like material. This had precut planting holes, just the thing to keep weeds down, I thought. But to my amazement and chagrin, weeds came up in the planting holes. At first it was easy to pick the few weeds out, but as summer wore on, things got worse. Back problems kept me from weeding for several weeks, during which time weeds proliferated to the point that they got way ahead of me.

Clearly, my idea was a flop and for those with any of the above-named weeds in their garden, I can now say that the best bet is to plant in widely spaced rows, so as to allow ample room for a hoe or small tiller to keep weeds at bay. Live and learn, I say, and it’s for sure that gardening is an ongoing learning experience.

Apply amendments

Fall is a good time to amend your soil. Growing things pull nutrients from the ground and these need replacing on an annual basis. So after thoroughly weeding your gardens, consider adding compost or other fertilizer. That way, winter snow and rain will help the nutrients in the compost work their way down into the soil, ready for next year’s crops.

If you only have a small garden space, a few bags of composted cow manure, or even better, composted fish waste, is all you will need to enrich your soil for next season.

Also, it’s a good idea to test your soil's pH. Test kits are available from garden centers and also online. Basically, garden soil ranges from a pH of 5.5 to 8.0. If ,after testing, your soil is less than a 6, you should spread ground limestone. Or if you operate a woodstove, try spreading wood ash on your garden at different times during the winter, and that should adjust your soil's pH to the proper level.

I go the wood ashes route and thus far, it has worked well for me. Besides that, using wood ashes in this manner not only gives me a way to safely dispose of the ashes, but also gets the maximum benefit from them

If the pH is above 7.5, which is unlikely, it needs soil sulphur, also available from garden centers and online.

Tom’s tips

If you are buying compost from a local farm, it is important to check that it is fully composted. It might also help to view the farmer’s fields and see what type of weeds grow in them, since if the compost isn’t fully cooked, those are the weeds that will invade your garden.

Weeds can take over in as little as two weeks. (Photo by: Tom Seymour)
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