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!

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The Long Winter

Blue-eyed Grass – Weekly Weeder #48

Blue-Eyed Grass - Sisyrinchium montanum - the grass that is not a grass, but a beautiful, delicate iris.  Range and identification, wildlife and human uses.

Today’s featured plant is Blue-Eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium montanum.

There are many varieties of blue-eyed grass, that look somewhat similar to each other, but the one I’m discussing in this post is also known as Strict Blue-Eyed Grass, Mountain Blue-Eyed Grass, Common Blue-eyed grass, little blue-eyed grass, little common blue-eyed grass, alpine blue-eyed grass, northern blue-eyed grass and Star Grass.  (source, source, source). This “grass” is not really a grass at all, but a type of beautiful, delicate iris.

Narrowleaf or stout blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) is another variant. Wikipedia notes that this genus includes 70-200 species of plants in the Iris family native to the Americas, some of which are endangered.
[Read more…]

Field Pennycress – Thlaspi arvense – Weekly Weeder #47

Field Pennycress - range and identification, wildlife uses, uses for food and medicine, potential as the next big biofuel crop.

Today’s featured plant is Field Pennycress, Thlaspi arvense.

Field Pennycress is also known as Pennycress, Field Pennygrass, Field penny-cress, Frenchweed, fanweed and stinkweed.  (source)

It’s in the mustard family (Brassicaeae), so it is related to common garden crops such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and kale, as well as other wild mustard family plants such as Shepherd’s Purse -Capsella bursa-pastoris – Weekly Weeder #15 and Winter Cress- Barbarea vulgaris – Weekly Weeder #20.
[Read more…]

Canada Mayflower – Maianthemum canadense – Weekly Weeder #46

Canada Mayflower - Maianthemum canadense - Weekly Weeder #46 - Range and Identification, Uses as Wildlife Habitat, and for Food and Medicine. #wildcrafting

Today’s featured plant is Canada Mayflower, Maianthemum canadense.

Canada Mayflower is also known as False Lily of the Valley, Canadian May-lily, Canadian Lily-of-the-valley, Wild Lily-of-the-valley, Two-leaved Solomonseal, Bead Ruby, Canada Beadruby, Squirrel Berry (Finland), and Muguet. (source and source)

There are several related species, including Maianthemum racemosum, feathery false lily of the valley; Maianthemum dilatatum, false lily of the valley; and Maianthemum stellatum, starry false lily of the valley. [Read more…]

Marsh Marigold, Caltha palustris – Weekly Weeder #45

After a long winter, the Weekly Weeder series has finally thawed out. I’ve caught up with enough of my gardening to make time to snap photos of some more of the wild plants around my area (northeast Wisconsin), and would like to share them with you!

Marsh Marigold, Caltha palustris - Weekly Weeder #45 - range and identification, role as a wildlife habitat, uses for food and medicine.

Today’s featured plant is Marsh Marigold, Caltha palustris.

Marsh marigold is also known as yellow marsh marigold and cowslip.  It is a member of the Family Ranunculaceae or Buttercup Family. It should not be confused with Primula veris, which is also commonly known as cowslip, which is a member of the primrose family, Primulaceae. [Read more…]