Good Night, Sweet Plants!

That's all, folks.

That’s all, folks.

One of the coolest things about gardening is that you get to try again each year. However, it does mean putting your garden to bed after you’re done for the year. Just before I left for Maine, I put Showcase 2 and my Ranch Community Garden beds, well, to bed. This is something that every gardener should do, but it’s more important in places like Colorado where the temperature fluctuates quite a bit and the humidity goes from dry to very dry.

I like second chances. I really like second chances.

I like second chances. I really like second chances.

Step one- harvest anything you haven’t already taken out that isn’t supposed to winter over. That gave me the turnips from the RCG beds and more potatoes than I had expected from the potato bed in Showcase 2. Step two- plant anything that needs to go in, in the fall. For me, that was garlic. The tiny bulbs were cute, but I like bigger ones for cooking. I just planted what I had on hand, which meant about a dozen cloves from a bulb I had bought at the grocery store plus the tiny ones to see if I could turn them into real ones. Garlic is simple. Plant them about six inches apart with the pointy-side up. They only need to go in as deep as the clove is tall. After

Pretty 'taters. There were four varieties this year.

Pretty ‘taters. There were four varieties this year.

that, I may need to water them a couple of times if the winter is dry again, but that’s it. I had planned on buying fancier garlic, but I can always do that later. You can plant it pretty much any time during the winter that you can work the ground. In the meantime, at least I know I’ll have something coming up in the spring. Step three- mark anything that will need attention over the winter, like my garlic bed.

I planted them in the potato bed thinking only of crop rotation, not that the soil was already so conveniently turned. Really.

I planted them in the potato bed thinking only of crop rotation, not that the soil was already so conveniently turned. Really.

Step four- cover with straw or some other mulch. This serves three purposes. First, it holds the temperature of the soil more even than it might be otherwise. Best case, it keeps it frozen all winter. For things like rose bushes, they aren’t wrapped and mulched to keep them from freezing, they are wrapped to stop any freeze/thaw cycle you might get through the winter. In the case of my soil, keeping it frozen keeps the microbes dormant. Second, it keeps the soil far more moist than it might be otherwise. This is particularly important in places where our wet season, winter, is a dry season by most standards. Third, both sets of beds could use more organic material for building them up. A little while before planting next spring, I’ll dig the mulch into the soil for it to complete the breakdown into usable bits for my plants.

Keeping my straw in my bed and not in the path.

Keeping my straw in my bed and not in the path.

I would like to note that if you don’t know the difference between straw and hay, make very sure you ask for a straw bale. Straw is what is left over when you harvest wheat and oats. Since wheat and oats are seeds, they are going to make sure they take all of the seeds before they bale what’s left. It also has very few weeds to supply seeds. Hay, on the other hand, can be anything from prettily-groomed alfalfa (seed-heads attached) to whatever is growing in that meadow over there that didn’t fall out when I baled it. It’s also usually more expensive. If you’re not sure what you have, straw tends to be pretty golden in color, while hay should be more green. You can probably also see seed heads and different types of plants in a hay bale.

That looks so much better, now.

That looks so much better, now.

Going back to keeping my microbes dormant, there was a small difference between how the two sets of beds were handled. My RCG beds had very low nitrogen. This is, essentially, normal. Nitrogen washes out of the soil pretty easily, so if you’re not replacing it one way or another, you probably won’t have much. Showcase 2, however, really had way too much. If the microbes wake up during the winter, they just go about their usual tasks, which includes eating up nitrogen in the soil. Therefore, the RCG beds were put away a couple of weeks before Showcase 2 and they were given a sprinkle of bloodmeal under the mulch. Because nitrogen washes out, you don’t want to add much, if any, in the winter, but it will give me a jump start on what needs to be added for next growing season. It will also keep the microbes happy and breeding for me if they do wake up. I left Showcase 2 until the last minute, hoping that the microbes would use up some of the excess nitrogen for me, so that we could have more balanced growth next year.

Putting my beds to bed turned out to be more than just a chore that needed to happen before I could go on vacation. I actually feel better now. I know that summer is over, because the gardens are put away. We spend so much of our lives being places and doing things that don’t change with the seasons that I had started to not notice when one season became another. I didn’t need to, really. I think that’s a mistake, though. Anything that lives and dies has seasons, and ignoring that couldn’t possibly be for the best. As Pete Seeger tells us, to everything there is a season. There’s got to be a reason for that.

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