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Gardening for Life: How to prepare your garden for winter

On these nicer November days, I will often wander through my garden and think about a few things I still need to tend to. My asparagus is turning yellow now and I will soon cut the stalks off at the base. I guess the third time is the charm for me when it comes to growing asparagus. My current crop that I planted three or four years ago was my third try in the 26 years of gardening here. I was very careful to plant this last batch correctly and it paid off.

So as soon as the plants die back and turn yellow, I will cut them all off about 2 inches above the ground. I will also put a layer of straw mulch over them to help with weed control next year. The asparagus will grow right through the straw even if it is 6 to 8 inches thick. If this happens, the asparagus will be white instead of green as it will not produce chlorophyl without exposure to sunlight. This type of asparagus is actually sold for a premium in many places. I find that to be a bit ironic since the nutritional value of white asparagus is slightly less than that of the regular. But the white is a little milder and more tender.

My strawberry beds will also need a little attention yet this fall before winter settles in. When nighttime temperatures start hitting the 20 degree mark, it will be time to put some straw mulch over the plants to help insulate them against the bitter cold temperatures to come. Strawberries are a cold season plant so I don’t want to cover them up until I know they are fully dormant. If they are covered too soon, they might suffer from rot or a virus while trying to grow under the bedding. I never used to cover my strawberry plans until one winter about six or eight years ago when I lost almost the entire bed to a cold winter. Since that time, I make sure to protect my plants with a thin layer of straw.

Once again this year, I never got around to dividing my rhubarb. I have one small area where the rhubarb has been growing for many years. If I just divide and separate it, I will rejuvenate and enlarge my rhubarb from what I have now. The best time to divide rhubarb is in the early spring so I guess I will just wait until next year.

I also have some garlic bulbs in one of my raised beds that I planted about six weeks ago. Garlic should be planted around six to eight weeks before the ground is likely to freeze. This will give the garlic plants time to start a good root system under the ground but not enough time to grow a plant above ground where it might be susceptible to the ravages of winter. What I will need to do is put about 3 to 4 inches of mulch over the top of my bulbs to help protect them over winter. I will wait until later in the fall to cover them up so they might get as much warmth from the late fall sun to help them establish their root system.

The Swiss chard and kale that look so good in my garden right now will continue to look that way well into the winter. We don’t really eat as much of these leafy vegetables as we should but they are a healthy addition to any garden. My wife refers to them as an “emergency” food supply. I think she is referring to what her parents or grandparents might have said about them being an easy, nutritious vegetable that will thrive even when the snow starts flying. This would have been very important back during the Great Depression days when a backyard garden was a huge part of a family’s food supply.

The daylight continues to diminish as the days left in 2015 dwindle. By now, most all of the garden tools have been put away for another year. But do consider anything that you can still do in the garden that might be a jump start for the next growing year. If you are like me, you might already have been looking over what remains of this year’s garden and are trying to get an idea of where and what to plant for next year. And you know it won’t be long before those seed catalogs start hitting the mailbox!

“Thoughts of Camille” — a poem

I sit out here, I am cold.
No fire today to warm me up.

A late fall day, out in my shack,
trying to put words on paper.

To me this is a pleasing desire,
to explain thought with fiber and ink.

With some frustration to be sure,
but always a taste of joy.

And such a challenge is, I think,
a thing that is good for me.

To be reaching, always searching,
for something you can’t quite know.

So clear in my mind it seems to appears,
yet never quite to grasp.

But always it seems I have the hope,
to puzzle it all out on paper.

So I will sit in the quiet with my non loneliness,
my thoughts two feet from my pen,

And continue this solitary journey,
to a destination that has no end.

For more gardening tips and inspirations from Master Gardener Jim Carpenter, subscribe to the Gardening for Life email newsletter.

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