(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 3 of the Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)
GARDENING IN SITKA
By Lori Adams
PUTTING YOUR GARDEN TO BED FOR THE WINTER
The gardening season is basically over for most of us and if you haven’t already, then now is the time to put your garden to bed for the winter.
It would be nice if any vegetables you are planning to over-winter were grouped together in the same bed, that way you could tidy up everything else and just maintain 1 bed. This is something to keep in mind next year when it comes planting time. For now, if it’s an annual and you are not eating it then it should be pulled up and thrown in the compost pile.
Old raspberry canes should have been pruned away by now (be sure you don’t damage the new canes or you won’t have any raspberries next year) and mulched with seaweed. This time of the year the leaves have all fallen off the raspberry canes and it’s very difficult to tell which ones are old and which ones are new, so if you haven’t pruned yet, wait until they start to bud out next year so it will be easier to tell. Strawberries and rhubarb should have a thick layer of mulch around them too.
When it comes to your perennial beds there are pros and cons to clearing away all the dead foliage. As for the pros; clean beds provide less hiding spaces for slugs, mold and disease, and a present a tidier appearance. (Primrose foliage turns to mush when it freezes and then thaws again and can cause the roots to rot, so no matter what you do with your other perennials it’s good to cut all the primrose leaves down to within two inches of the ground.)
As for the cons; dead foliage provided nice insulation from freezing weather and breaks down to return to the soil as compost. I like to remove all the dead foliage from my perennials except the ones that have hollow stems. A hollow stem that has been cut open will fill up with water and rot out the plant. Once the dead foliage has been removed I mulch the beds with about 10 inches of seaweed. I try to put most of the seaweed “around” the plants rather than on top of them as this can lead to rot too, but a little is not bad.
What ever method you choose it is important to give your all of your garden soil some nutrition to get through the winter. Remember that soil is alive and must have something to eat to remain healthy and vigorous until it gets fed again next spring. Seaweed is free, abundant, and close to town so there is no reason not to utilize this amazing resource.
If you are trying to over-winter vegetables there are things you can do to protect them. Potatoes must be brought inside, but other root crops like carrots and garlic can be buried with a deep layer of seaweed or straw to keep them from freezing. Some Sitka gardeners lay a plastic tarp over the bed first and then apply the seaweed, but I have used just seaweed and have had great results.
Crops that grow above the ground can be mulched with seaweed or straw and then covered with floating row cover. It’s amazing how long you can extend your season with row cover, but eventually even row cover won’t protect plants from being frozen. Keep an eye on your crops and if it looks like they are growing weary and there is freezing weather in the forecast, then you can pull them up, roots and all, and store them in buckets in a cool space indoors- harvesting at your leisure throughout the rest of the winter.
Many gardeners cover all of their empty vegetable beds with plastic to keep the nutrients from leeching away during the long winter. I am conflicted about this. So far I have only used plastic over one bed — next year’s spinach and lettuce row — because I want maximum nutrition in that bed next spring. I think it is probably a good idea, but it could be providing an excellent hiding spot for slugs, mold and disease. Also, it can be difficult to keep the wind from ripping it off and you have to find someplace to store it the rest of the year.
Sometimes simple can be best and if you apply enough food throughout the season then plastic is not necessary.
Once everything has been put away you can relax indoors with the comforting knowledge that you did everything that you could to the best of your ability. Soon those wonderful seed catalogs will start arriving in the mail and you can plan next year’s garden.
Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden
2103 Sawmill Creek Road
Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
747-6108 or 738-2241