The Vegetable Demonstration Garden was planned to demonstrate companion planting, harvesting healthy and delicious food and sharing with ACCESS. For the past month or so the garden has been a source of great abundance. Over 300 pounds of produce has been harvested and donated to ACCESS so far this year from the garden.
Today you can walk through the verdant forests of tomatoes, tomatillos and sunchokes or gingerly step around buttery colored butternut squash, blue bachelor buttons and a kaleidoscopic of colorful nasturtiums, yellow and white yarrow, red and golden raspberries and much more. Not all of the plants were planted for culinary use and human consumption. Some were planted for their medicinal herbal qualities or to attract and/or repel various insects. Some plants are growing as cover crops to protect and nurture the soil of the various beds. Plants were chosen as companion plants to grow in harmony, reduce infestation, enhance soil and for many other purposes.
Now that the days are getting shorter and the nights are cooler, consider putting the garden to bed for the winter months. Commune with nature in the garden and think about different actions you can take to improve the garden over the winter. By spending time in your garden, you can learn to watch and observe before you make a move. You will notice that nature is way more willing to help than cause trouble. And, you may find ways that are less labor-intensive and built upon Nature’s processes. Then take your ideas and prepare for the winter.
The soil is the most important aspect of a healthy garden. Although the garden may seem inactive and dormant over winter, there are many actions to take to ensure the soil will be ready come spring for seeding and planting. For example:
- Should you sow a cover crop?
- Chop down the dying vegetable plants and cover with a tarp? (AKA “chop n drop.”)
- Maybe cover with a thick layer of straw?
Maybe try all of these based on what will go into the garden next spring.
But it all starts with the soil. A healthy garden is balanced and biodiverse. If you have happy microbes in your soil, you have happy plant roots that can fight off pests and diseases and uptake more nutrients.
Every plant, every insect and every four-legged critter has a purpose. Look for the balance.
Your garden is as healthy and diverse as you wish to create it in harmony with nature. Your garden harvests sunshine, combines it with water and nutrients, and creates carbohydrates which it shares with multiple microbes and mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. In return the mycorrhiza share micronutrients with the surrounding plants’ roots.
“Mycorrhizal symbiosis enables the fungi to forage for mineral nutrients
in the soil and deliver them to the trees in exchange for carbohydrates.”
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, Chapter: The Council of Pecans.
“Plants know how to make food and medicine from
light and water, and then they give it away.”
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, Chapter: Skywoman Falling.
In the fall as you remove the summer tomatoes and squash, be sure to leave the roots, water the beds and cover them to keep out the light. The microbes in the soil will over-winter well and will be ready for next spring when you return to plant. Come spring, you can remove what is left of the various roots of the plants. Leaving the roots over winter provides food and aeration for the soil biota. If your beds are raised you may wish to add amendments like calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) in preparation for next year’s tomatoes. If you have cover crops on some of the beds, maybe just chop n’ drop the cover crop, water and tarp for the winter. Next spring when you remove the cover you will see almost nothing is left of your chopped cover crop. It fed the soil critters.
Speaking of cover crops: What kind? And when to sow? These are great questions and the answer depends upon your plans for next year. The Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley has some tips. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) has great resources as well as Green Cover, a commercial cover crop company.
Now is the time think about how to prepare your garden for next spring.
- Think of the soil.
- Think about the types of covers.
- Think about the microbes.
- Think about balance and go out into your garden and sit and listen to nature.
Happy Autumn Equinox to everyone.