Sunday, November 8, 2020

My Fall Garden Check List (Part 1)

As the days begin to shorten, and the air begins to cool, we find the need begin preparing for the cold to the bone effects that accompany the pending winter weather. Here in Zone 5a, we have a very seasonal pattern, which means, winters are cold, there is often snow, and our outdoor activities take a bit of a turn.  If you haven't already, it is time to get ready.  

Here on our homestead this means a whole pile of changes.  I am going to break them into two main categories and do my best to briefly detail what we do in our general winter weather preps. 

The first main category we will tackle is the yard and garden.  Everything that we use during summer needs to find its winter home and those items that we will continue to use for various chores need to find a consistent place to be so they are easily accessed all winter long. Beds need cleaned up, etc.  Let's look at the list. 

Deal with the Water Issues:  

When the weather turns, one of my first considerations is usually water.  We have under ground sprinklers, so we shut the system down and blow out the lines to prevent frozen pipes from cracking.  We usually have hoses strung all over the yard from the growing season, and I like to get those rolled up and placed in a shed for safe keeping.  I also like to take stock of the location of our watering cans, buckets, pails, etc. so I have access to what I need for watering the animals, and any other water related tasks that might come up. 

Let's Build Soil: 

If you have spent any time looking through this blog, then you will know that we are big on building soil around here.  Fall is the prefect time to gather up the years worth of garden waste and get it into compost piles.  We throw away virtually nothing from our yard, so every squash vine, leaf, blade of grass, tomato plant, unripe squash, you name it, they all go into one of our compost systems in one form or another. We want to continually recycle those nutrients throughout our system.  Sometimes we use mechanical helpers, such as leaf shredders and/or chippers, but if we don't have time we just pile it up and let nature begin the process for us. It is also good practice to use some of this material to cover your beds with a nice winter blanket.  We use leaves and grass clippings along with hay and straw if we can find it to try and cover all the exposed soil that we can for the winter. Throughout the winter, worms and other soil creatures will feed on this debris and further improve our soil texture for the following season. 

Get Some Pruning Done: 

Another tasks that goes along with the garden clean up, is our annual pruning of the flower beds and cleaning out of the pots.  We don't cut everything back, but some things that we know will need it anyway get a nice chop to end the summer growing season.  We generally prune back our elderberry plants pretty heavily in the fall as they are very vigorous growers and seem to need it by then.  Likewise with the grape vines which makes harvesting the grapes much easier. Our planter pots are usually full of warm season plants, like sweet potato vine, so they all get pulled and cleaned out for a nice clean look all winter. As you can imagine, all of this gets added to compost piles after a quick run through the chipper.  

I don't prune any of our fruit trees this late in the season.  I prefer to prune all of them during the dormant period of late winter if I can get around to it.  This affords me an opportunity to more easily see the shape of the trees so I can make adjustments as necessary to their shape and structure. This is part of the reason we prune other things now, so we can focus on other pruning tasks in the late winter and early spring. 

Get the Animals Set and Ready: 

I have spoken to some degree already on this blog about our animal system, but for a concise version, let's explore this.  Winter marks the transition into winter housing.  All summer long, our hens and rabbits have been in their summer quarters with ample access to fresh air, fresh produce, fresh weeds, sunshine and shade.  But those structures are far more exposed than I want to be when I take care of them, so every year when the cold weather begins to creep in, we move them into winter housing.  For us, winter housing is an old greenhouse that was here when we bought the place.  Over the years it has evolved and now includes a number of rabbit cages, some nest boxes for the hens, and a very deep open floor.  We fill this opening with straw, paper shreds, leaves and grass clippings, old hay, etc. when fall hits and move the chickens and rabbits into this space for the winter.  Food, and water will both be available in here as well as outside in their small winter run, but when it gets really cold and snowy, they basically stay inside.  They love digging through all this deep bedding all winter long.  It is well ventilated and this system has worked very well over the years.  I can feed and care for them in a sheltered position.  There are lights which makes my work easier when necessary.  There is power to run their heated watering pans.  It is just so much easier than leaving them outside would be.  And, as an added bonus, since it is a greenhouse, they are nice and warm on sunny winter days, taking advantage of some thermal gain. 

I also like to try and stock up to some extent on animal feed to keep the animals going through the winter.  You never know when winter weather is going to take an unexpected turn for the worse, and I hate having to run to town for food and supplies in the middle of a snow storm.  So we'll be sure to have some extra feed stuff stocked and stored.

As an added bonus, this system has proven to result in piles and piles of useful composting material at the end of the season when I am ready to start building my summer compost piles.  The chickens have spent months pooping and scratching through this massive pile of goods, and I keep adding more and more to it throughout the season.  This material, along with the now aged material in their summer run, is an excellent accelerator to the active summer compost piles we will build as soon as the weather breaks next spring.  Within 30-60 days, we will turn this material into some epic, active compost to add to our growing systems! 

Start Planning for Next Year: 

While things are fresh in my mind, I like to start thinking about what went well and what didn't this growing season.  Every year it seems we are trying new experiments with plants, different varieties, different beds and systems.  That's part of the fun right?  So, I like to take a quick moment to think about what I might want to do next season.  Are we going to add any new beds?  If so, where and how are we going to go about it?  What projects didn't we get to that need to be at the top of the planning lists for next season?  This year I didn't get the new greenhouse buttoned up like I wanted, so now that has to wait until next spring.  I also didn't get the fence boards planed off and put back up, so there is another project that needs tackling.  

Raised bed soil tends to settle.  How much have the beds settled and do we need to be making plans to add more soil to the beds?  Might be able to find some great deals on high quality soil at the end of the season sales. Or, it might be worth making some compost runs this fall and pile it up somewhere so it's ready for next season.  Also might be a good idea to cover the soil with shredded leaves so soil life can start converting some of it into soil over the winter.  

As you can see, just getting the yard transitioned over into winter weather mode can be a significant chore.  In part two, we will look at getting the people living systems ready for the cold winter weather coming our way.  Are you ready for the winter weather yet?  What do your plans include as you prep for winter weather?

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