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I am starting to think and plan out my fall/winter garden. I am looking at trying to plant some crops that will be overwintered and some crops that I can harvest before spring. What special steps should I take to prepare my beds for fall and winter crops that are different than what I do for spring crops? This year I pretty much just tilled up my soil and did not worry about soil amendment or anything. Can I do this for fall and winter crops as well or do I need to take more care with these plants?

I'm not totally certain what I am going to plant yet and I know some of this will depend on that, but I know I will try onions and garlic, and probably some carrots, radishes and maybe some leafy greens (maybe spinach and lettuce).

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Preparatory steps for a fall garden that are different from planting a spring garden:

  • Choose varieties that are cold hardy, if it gets cold where you live.
  • Choose varieties that mature quickly, if you will need to harvest before winter arrives in full force.
  • Set up season extenders -- row cover, hoops, etc. as needed.
  • If you're overwintering and plan to use mulch for protection, gather your mulch material (straw, leaves, etc).
  • If you decide to mulch for protection, keep in mind that this provides cover for rodents. If mice or voles are a problem for you, reconsider your decision to mulch.
  • Remember that the angle of the sun changes (in higher latitudes, at least), so shading patterns may be different -- adjust plantings accordingly.
  • There's less daylight in winter, so strictly speaking you may be harvesting instead of growing. Some plants will need a head start in late summer so that they can grow during the fall and you can harvest during the winter while they're basically dormant.
  • If you use a cold frame, make sure you have a rock-solid strategy for ventilating on warm days. A 35F sunny day in January can cook plants in a closed cold frame.
  • Organic matter decomposes more slowly in cold weather. If you add manure in the fall, the soil organisms won't have as much chance to convert it to food for the plants right away. (I like to manure in the fall as prep for spring plantings.)
  • When you harvest crops in late fall, there's not much chance for cover crops to get established. Consider mulching following fall harvests -- or perhaps incorporating shredded leaves if this is appropriate for whatever will be planted in the bed in spring and if it's practical (i.e. the ground is still workable).

Additional considerations, if you're going to be gardening year-round instead of just summer gardening:

  • Cropping two seasons will remove more nutrients from the soil than just cropping one season. Keep this in mind as you evaluate your fertilizer/amendment needs.
  • Overwintered crops will be "in the way" in the spring. Have a plan for harvesting / removing debris in advance of spring crops.
  • Similarly, plan your crop rotation around winter/summer plantings. For example, don't plan to plant an early spring crop of peas where you have overwintered spinach.

  • Three reliable overwintered crops in my garden (-10F to -20F lows), without protection except the insulation from 4' of snow in midwinter:

    • spinach
    • mâche
    • kale

    Though my success with kale is less than that of spinach and mâche. I also had chard "accidentally" overwintered that started to resprout one spring.

  • Three reliable fall crops (harvested before the ground freezes and/or snow cover):

    • carrots
    • chard
    • lettuce

    I'm growing more cole crops this fall (cabbage, broccoli, turnip, kale) and beets, we'll see how those turn out.

  • YMMV!

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  • If you haven't had your soil professionally tested (not just a pH test) in a few years, that could well prove worthwhile. The results you get back will give you a very! clear idea what you can do best to improve your soil and anything "special" you might need to add for the crops you choose to plant.

  • "Generally" speaking you can't really go wrong with turning over the soil, helps break up any clumps/lumps that have formed in the soil, and allows air to get back "deep" into the soil.

  • "Generally" speaking you can't go wrong with adding in more organic matter after you've turned over the soil. Then dig in, turnover the organic matter with the freshly turned over soil.

  • If you end up with areas of bare soil after you've planted the crops you selected, consider sowing some ground cover "green manure" in those bare areas.

  • Get your seeds, seedlings, etc together as soon as you can, is practical to-do-so. You don't want to be rushing around at the last minute trying to get this stuff together.

  • Get together any crop coverings you might need for winter protection ie Be prepared.

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