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Putting the Garden to Bed

Posted in Ranch Report

Putting my garden to bed is almost as exciting as prepping my garden for spring planting.  It’s also my favorite time of year in the Roaring Fork Valley; colors ablaze on every horizon, the air crisp and the sunshine sharp, there is nothing more rewarding then harvesting the last of the season’s bounty and laying to rest that special piece of earth.

Just as any farmer needs the winter to rest and restore for the next bustling season, the garden, too, must lay dormant over winter and recuperate for spring planting. For the gardener, this process can be very simple, especially if you know what resources are available locally. The basic idea is to pull out this season’s crops, aerate the soil, load heaps of natural fertilizer and mulch on top, then water in. That’s it! The worms, microbial life and cool, dormant months of winter will take care of the rest. What’s more, year by year all that mulch you throw on top builds new soil and act as a natural weed barrier come spring.

Here’s the step-by-step how-to:

1) Take out all remaining crop residues and throw these in the compost for future soil amending. If you have livestock, you can feed sunflowers, brassicae stalks, and leftover greens to the animals. However, don't give your animals the nightshades, like potato plants, eggplants or tomato plants!

2) Once only soil remains in your beds, rake them out lightly to minimally aerate the top few inches.

3) Pile a whole bunch of manure atop your beds. Usually you can get manure from a local rancher or farm. Goat, llama and rabbit manure can go on the beds fresh. Horse, chicken, pig and cow manure should be semi-cured (at least 3 months). Add 1-6 inches of manure to your plots.

4) Tuck your plots into bed under a nice, thick layer of leaves. I find leaves to be the best mulch since they break down quickly, encourage healthy worm populations, and provide essential nutrients to the soil. I suggest oak, aspen, cottonwood, and my favorite, willow leaves. Willow leaves actually contain indolebutyric acid, a rooting hormone that promotes plant growth. Avoid conifers, as their needles are very acidic and will change the pH of your soil. Look for bags of leaves by driving through neighborhoods during an autumn weekend when everyone is raking their lawn. Or rake your own!

5) Finally, give your beds a good soak with the hose. After watering, let your beds rest until spring. You will find much of the manure and leaves have decomposed into rich topsoil in which seedlings will thrive!

~Caitlin Bourassa