My garden is starting to look barer these days as I tug more and more plants out that have passed their prime.
The beans are getting sparse and the squash seems not to even be flowering anymore. However, those heirloom tomatoes are still going strong. I had a few determinate type varieties that pretty much produced a few bushels of tomatoes but then called it quits.
As I pull plants it is good to remind myself that I shouldn’t be leaving my soil bare over the winter. Usually I toss on some cover crop seed in late July or early August in the form of some annual rye. This year I spaced it off, got busy and never made it to planting any. At this point, with the weather, it may be too late to plant anything like rye. There is enough time to plant radishes, though. Those will at least give you something with a little hold to your soil.
If you leave your soil bare over the winter, you are making your soil work harder to rebuild all the micro-organisms that worked in force together during the growing season. This happens anytime you disturb your soil.
When I plant cover crops, I usually tend to sprinkle them on the top of my ground around the plants that are already growing. Then when the existing plants are beginning to die back, I take my pruners and cut them to the ground — unless I think they were diseased or insect infested. Then they get ripped out so I don’t spread more issues into my plot.
Come spring, since I am a relatively small growing operation, I dig my holes into the ground with the rest of the dead plant material around from the past year. That dead material acts as a mulch of sorts and protects against erosion.
There is nothing worse than tilling up an entire field and then planting it, only for a monsoon to come through that night and wash everything away. That is enough to make me not want to ever plant anything again.
Around this time of year I also start gathering my leaves from my trees as they fall. I add them to my planting areas so they can spend their winter decomposing right where I plan on adding them to my soil to make it even more packed with nutrients.
I will say that it may not end up ever on the cover of a magazine, but it will definitely grow some amazing food crops with great yields as far as I am concerned. If I was looking at keeping it pretty I would just stick to adding everything to my compost piles and then add it all to the garden come spring. But as you may have figured I don’t garden for the looks of it. I garden for the function of it all.
So, try to resist the urge to remove every plant that is beyond its prime and keep as much of your existing soil intact.
If you have an area that was plagued with weeds this growing season, add a thick layer of straw along with mulch or leaves and it will form a water tight mat that will prevent your weeds from emerging in the future, while it breaks down and enriches your soil at the same time.
I figure you might as well take some of the extra work out of gardening and help cut down on your yard waste as well.
Sacha Burns is an organic gardener and owner of Sunkissed Organics in Pinola. She may be reached at email@example.com.