I just wanted to send out a short welcome to our new and returning gardeners this year. Here are a few tips for the winter:
Winter is a great time for tidying up your garden if you haven’t already. Clearing off debris is a key method of preventing disease especially if you noticed symptoms on your plants last year. There are a number of insect pests that overwinter in the top layers of leaf litter/detritus. There are several preventative measures of dealing with overwintering pests – removal and tilling (or turning it over by hand in our case). Since we are 100% organic, I would recommend that gardeners completely remove any known infested plant remains from the garden area entirely (i.e. please do not compost diseased/infected/infested plants) as leaving them on or around the premises is just spreading the pain to the rest of the garden.
I will use the example of the notorious asparagus beetle as an example because I have noted several gardens have nascent asparagus beds (but no beetles yet, thank goodness!). Generally, the asparagus beetle overwinters in the old stalks of the plant just below the soil surface so they are ready to infest new stalks as they emerge in the early spring. That makes it important to remove the old dead and dying asparagus stalks at the end of the year pretty critical, even if you don’t have signs of beetles. If you do happen to get an infestation, remove the new infected growth stalks several inches down from soil level and take them (preferably bagged) from the premises (they look like shepherd’s crooks) and make sure that any visible beetles get squished that are feasting on healthy stalks.
So many people have had squash bug issues at our garden that I generally don’t recommend growing squash or cucumbers for new gardeners because if several gardeners leave their plot alone until late spring, the beetles will emerge from last year’s squash and just crawl or fly over a few feet to the new squash plants. There are lots of other pests that can be managed effectively by turning the top few inches of soil over. In addition to pest and weed control, beneficial microbes and plants benefit from the extra aeration.
Ideally, when you turn the top few inches of soil over, you should add some organic matter to your soil at the same time. Dead tree leaves added in late winter will be broken down by May if you turn them in with the soil. Keep in mind that leaves are super for soil tilth, but you will need a nitrogen source too. I use whatever nitrogen source I can get my hands on, including well-aged manure, my own kitchen compost, organic fertilizers and our garden-purchased garden compost.
As I mentioned above, turning over the top inch or two of soil also kills emergent weeds. It’s just a really good thing to do in the Fall and early spring. I highly recommend a thorough weeding and turning over the first few inches of soil for the reasons mentioned above.