Putting the Garden to Bed – Musings at the End of Another Gardening Season

Putting the Garden to Bed - Musings at the End of Another Gardening Season. Why my garden looks messy, and that's just fine with me.

Written on 11/7/2014 as a personal facebook post.  I got so much feedback on it I decided to add some photos.

Today I put up the driveway markers for snow plowing, emptied the kitty litter out by the fruit trees to discourage the mousies, spread the ashes lightly around the garden, took out the compost, brought in the last of the pumpkins from the greenhouse and the little fairy from the garden, fed the birds, tucked some bins and posts into the greenhouse, and added more corn stalks on top of the parsnips to hold the straw down. The boys moved the water jugs around the grapes and blueberries for extra protection, and filled the wood racks. Tonight I froze celery and made pumpkin leather.

Driveway markers - prepping for winter snow

If this winter is anything like last winter, the neighbor who does our plowing will need these to tell where the driveway is between the drifts. You can see how deep it got in the post, “The Long Winter“. 

Preparing the parsnip patch to overwinter

The parsnip patch. First, the parsnips are covered in straw or leaves. Then I put corn stalks over the top of the straw to keep it from blowing away. The water filled jugs are added to catch snow (along with the cornstalks) and protect the plants even more. In spring these will be one of the first crops harvested from the garden.

Blueberry patch, fenced and protected for winter

We put a fence all the way around the blueberries to keep the deer at bay, with wooden lattice blocking the prevailing wind. Water jugs create protective microclimates around each plant to protect from deep cold. (Last winter we got down to 50 below zero.)

It’s interesting to me how my perspective on the garden has changed over the years. I’m sure my garden looks like a mess to the average passerby, as all the neighbor’s gardens are neatly plowed for spring. But when I walk outside, I see flocks of birdies hanging from the seedheads (wild and tame), foraging the abundant harvest. I know that if I wanted to, I could nibble right along with them, for many weed seeds are edible to humans, too. I have a bucket of plantain seeds waiting by the door to be stripped off their stems and stored for cooking. A few stray huckelberries hide here and there in the wildness. There are still fresh herbs that could be harvested for tea.

Lambsquarter, wild relative of the popular quinoa

Lambsquarter, wild relative of the popular quinoa. Seeds can be ground for a cereal grain, or sprouted for use as sprouts or microgreens.

Chocolate mint plant in late fall

Chocolate mint plant, still green, tasty and ready to harvest. It makes a wonderful herbal tea, and tasty chocolate mint extract.

Hardy greens, wild and tame, are still standing in the cold. Kale, chard, spinach, cabbage (new heads sprouting), mallow, plantain, thistle – all still firm and green. The cold mellows out the flavor. I munched while I was working. Harvest now continues well past hard frost. There’s more food than most people realize if you just know what to look for and are willing to try new things.

Rainbow Swiss chard

Rainbow Swiss chard – frost brings out the bright colors

Putting the Garden to Bed - Musings at the End of Another Gardening Season. Why my garden looks messy, and that's just fine with me.

Cabbage sprouting from plants that have already been harvested. The new heads are tender and delicious.

volunteer spinach

Volunteer spinach, strawberry spinach and chamomile. These will hold up to some cold, and new plants will likely emerge in the spring.

If I pull back mulch and look under the dead plants, it’s so alive! All the little critters don’t need to dig super deep into the soil or relocate. Yes, sometimes the troublemakers overwinter along with the good guys, but there are generally enough good guys to keep them in line.

Which brings me to the conclusion of my rambling – today I am grateful for this crazy abundance, and the eyes and knowledge to see what’s been in front of me much of my life that many people never notice. The plants, wild and tame, that are like old friends to me now.

What does “Putting the Garden to Bed” mean?

My friend, Amanda, who helps me out with social media for the site and is new-ish to homesteading, asked me what I meant when I talked about “putting the garden to bed”.

I don’t have a set routine, that’s just the term I use to refer to all the odds and ends that get done to wrap up another harvest season.  All the trellises and fences are carefully taken down and stored for use again next year.  The garlic and parsnips are mulched to protect them from the winter cold.  Every young tree and small shrub is fenced or wrapped (or both) to protect them from deer and rodents.  Items that will be damaged by the cold and snow are also brought in, like hoses, rain gauges, garden ornaments and the like.  Any landscaping fabric that was used to provide extra warmth to heat loving garden plants is pulled up, cleaned and stored for reuse.  Sometimes I cut down cornstalks and wild grape vines and use them for seasonal decorations.

We keep harvesting and preserving until the garden is buried under snow.  Even then, some things like wild seed heads are still available.  Many crops that are brought inside when hard frost threatens are processed further, into things like kraut and fruit leathers, or canned, dried or frozen for even longer storage.  Right now I still have ground cherries and tomatillos rustling around my counter, as well as a few large zucchini and a few hot peppers.

There are seed heads from plantain and amaranth waiting in bins.  I bring them into dry so they shed their seeds more easily.  We’re going to try popping the amaranth seeds this year.  They’re supposed to pop up like miniature popcorn.  I’m tincturing wild roots from dandelion, burdock and yellow dock to use for medicine.

Sometime in the next couple of months, I’ll go through my seed inventory and decide what I need for next year, and in February I’ll start planting things like onion seeds that need a long time to grow.  A few herb and flower seeds germinate better after time in the deep freeze, so that needs to be accounted for as well.  We’re working on adding more trees and shrubs to our permaculture plantings, so I’ll need to talk to my husband and boys about what gets planted next, and how much we can reasonably add in one season.

This is where we’re at right now.  I’m grateful that we still had a harvest, in spite of the difficult weather (cold, wet spring; cold, dry summer; cold, wet fall).  Looking forward to trying it all again next year.  :-)

How does your garden grow? I’d love to hear from you!

You may also enjoy: 

Cats, Kids and Playing Hooky

What You Don’t See in the Photos – The Real Life of a Homestead Blogger

The Long Winter

How to Tell if a Watermelon is Ripe

How to Tell if a Watermelon is Ripe - 4 clues to look for to tell if your garden or store watermelon is red, ripe, and ready to pick.

This post is primarily for those who are wondering if their homegrown watermelon is ripe and ready to pick, but most of the same tips apply for those rooting through the produce bins at the supermarket or scouting out the farmers market.  Watermelons are a little sneakier than muskmelons, which slip right off the vine (i.e. come loose on their own) when ripe.  Uncut watermelons are also less fragrant than muskmelons, because they don’t have that open end where the vine was formerly attached.  You will never find me sniffing watermelons in the grocery store, but you may find me sniffing cantaloupes.  (I do my own stunts. ;-) )

4 Clues to Tell if Your Watermelon is Ripe

Back in my late teens and early 20’s, my jobs at the family catering business included picking out the watermelons and carving the watermelon boats for parties.  I was known as the resident watermelon expert, almost guaranteed to be able to pick out the perfect melon, if there was a perfect melon to be found. [Read more…]

Gummy Zucchini Candy Recipe – Naturally Sweetened

Naturally Sweetened Zucchini Gummy Candy Recipe - Tastes like commercial gummy treats with no artificial flavors, colors or refined sugar.

Overwhelmed by zucchini or summer squash?  Make some zucchini gummy candy!  I saw a recipe online that made them with drink mix and sugar, and coated them with more drink mix – more sugar and artificial color and flavor than I prefer.  So I decided to experiment with a simpler version using fruit juice concentrate.  It worked out great!

Naturally Sweetened Zucchini Gummy Candy Recipe

[Read more…]

Sustainable Methods for Dealing with Drought

Dealing with Drought - 3 organic strategies to make your farm or garden more drought tolerant so you can still produce a crop when rain is scarce. #drought #organicgardening

Given the wild weather that’s been thumping parts of the U.S. and the rest of the world, I wanted to share an article I found recently titled, “Sustainable Methods for Dealing with Drought” by Dr. Phil Wheeler.  While the author is primarily focused on farm scale production, the advice is just as good for the home gardener trying to feed their family.  I’ll include my notes and additional resources in italics. [Read more…]

Introduction to Aquaponics: Growing Fish and Vegetables Together

Introduction to Aquaponics: Growing Fish and Vegetables Together

What if I told you that you could catch fish for dinner right in your own backyard? And if you did, what if I told you that right up until you caught those fish, they were growing the veggies for the rest of your dinner? Would you believe me? You should! This is all within reach using a new style of gardening called Aquaponics.

What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is, at its most basic level, the marriage of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water and without soil) together in one integrated system. The fish waste provides organic food for the growing plants and the plants naturally filter the water in which the fish live. The third and fourth critical, yet invisible actors in this symbiotic world are the beneficial bacteria and composting red worms. Think of them as the Conversion Team. The beneficial bacteria exist on every moist surface of an aquaponic system. They convert the ammonia from the fish waste that is toxic to the fish and useless to the plants, first into nitrites and then into nitrates. The nitrates are relatively harmless to the fish and most importantly, they make terrific plant food. At the same time, the worms convert the solid waste and decaying plant matter in your aquaponic system into vermicompost. [Read more…]