I’m always practicing being in the present moment but with farming, you always need to be thinking and planning for the next season. Which is winter!
Autumn is a transitional time for plant and soil life. Summer grasses are losing their vigour and winter grasses are gaining momentum. Dairy and beef farmers choose this time to broadcast out oat and rye seed to give their stock extra feed during the winter.
Autumn is the optimal season to be putting out the Biodynamic Soil Sprays as they help the soil food web digest all the extra organic matter, from dying off of summer grasses and their roots, which is converted to humus.
In the vegetable garden, beds are being refurbished ready for those beautiful winter vegetables. Compost is being made out of all of the weeds and old summer vegetable plants. For this Biodynamic Preparation Balls are a must.
When the beds have been weeded, biodynamic compost is incorporated with a fork or a broad fork. Now is the time to spray the beds with a biodynamic soil spray. After their biodynamic soil spray the beds need to be lightly mulched with old hay, grass clippings, straw or sugar cane mulch to avoid their drying out. Beds are now ready for planting with winter seedlings or seed.
In the orchard, Autumn presents an ideal time for planting many fruit trees, pruning others and harvesting others. Which fruit tree crops you work with for each of these activities is dependent on your local climate.
A good time to manage fruit trees is when all the fruit has been harvested. Prune out any crossed over, damaged or dead limbs, mow any long grass under the tree, apply Biodynamic Combined Soil preparation mixed with Biodynamic Fish/Seaweed Concentrate. Coat the tree trunks and larger branches with Biodynamic Paste which nourishes the tree through the bark and gives protection against insect attack and heals the pruning wounds. Then dilute some BD Paste with water, strain it and spray it over the rest of the tree.
The last biodynamic management strategy is, on a sunny early morning, to spray out the combined atmospheric preparation of horn silica, summer horn clay and fresh equisetum ( horsetail ).
This spray will help the establishment of good strong fruiting buds for the next season and aid the flow of sap from the tops of the tree to its roots.
Winter Garden Vegetables
what can we grow in the winter? here in california, we are so lucky!
Here is a list of things we can still grow.
Next month we can start planting garlic! In california many growers actually plant their strawberries runners in the fall so that the spring flush strives.
Another thing we need to think about is cover cropping. If you aren’t going to use a bed that used in summer, you should cover crop it. This is will keep everything alive in your soil and you do want to keep everything alive!
Winter is a good time to be working on soil improvement, and you don’t have to go out in cold weather to do it. By planting a cover crop in summer or fall and letting it overwinter, you can improve soil organic matter and soil fertility, suppress cool-season weeds, prevent soil erosion, and create a better seedbed for spring planting.
The best winter cover crops vary by region, depending upon the crop’s winter hardiness, but from a management perspective there are basically two types:
- Crops that are killed by cold, but have enough biomass to protect the soil
- Crops that remain alive through winter and resume growth in spring.
Oats are an example of the first type. Sown in summer, they will put on a lot of growth before being killed by heavy frost. The killed mulch and root mass will hold the soil in place until the following spring.
The disadvantage to this type of cover crop is that you have to clear the land and plant the cover crop early enough to get significant amounts of biomass to hold the soil over the winter. That could mean cover-cropping only on ground that grew spring vegetables, or it could require undersowing the cover crop in a summer crop such as corn. The big advantages of a winterkilled cover crop is that the mulch is easy to till under in spring, and the land can be planted right away.
Fall Green Manure Mix
Depending upon growing zone, the peas, clover, and ryegrass are winter killed, while the rye and hairy vetch regrow in spring.
The second type, cover crops that live through winter or that go dormant and renew growth in late winter, can usually be planted after summer vegetable crops. They will grow in fall and establish root systems that protect the soil over winter.
Some examples of crops that will survive winter (depending on winter low temperatures) include winter rye winter wheat, hairy vetch, Austrian winter peas, and crimson clover, Winter rye and hairy vetch are recommended for the northern United States.
In regions where these crops survive winter, they will grow vigorously in early spring. They will need to be mowed close to the ground, to stop growth, and then incorporated into the soil. Because decomposition of the cover crop debris will tie up nitrogen, it’s a good idea to wait two or three weeks before planting.
We use a mixture of cover crops from the two categories. Johnny’s Fall Green Manure Mix is a blend of winter rye, field peas, ryegrass, crimson clover, and hairy vetch. The peas, clover, and ryegrass are winter killed. The rye and hairy vetch regrow in spring.
At the end of the growing season you may be ready to rest, but your garden is not. One final effort can make a big difference: cover cropping. Even small gardens will benefit from the use of cover crops, or “green manures”. Tilling, weeding, harvesting and foot traffic of most home gardens tends to destroy soil structure. Planting cover crops is an easy way to revitalize the soil, and help soil tilth and subsequent plant growth. Cover crops are planted in vacant space and worked into the soil after they grow instead of being eaten. They provide a number of advantages to the otherwise wasteful use of space during your garden’s off-season.
Cover crops help to retain the soil, lessen erosion, and decrease the impact of precipitation on the garden by slowing the runoff of water. They also reduce mineral leaching and compaction, and suppress perennial and winter annual weed growth. The top growth adds organic matter when it is tilled into the garden soil. The cover crop’s root system also provides organic matter and opens passageways that help improve air and water movement in the soil.
Another thing to consider is row covers. We cover as many beds as possible with row covers. Row covers do two things, they keep your plants a little warmer and also they keep many bugs out. We use row covers all year long on our beds. Here is how
8’ Fiberglass Rods or PVC – these work for a bed width of 4 feet
Length of tunnel divided by 2 plus 1 = Number of rods you will need
For a 12’ tunnel, you will need 7 rods
Floating Row Cover –
Length: length of tunnel + distance to ground on both ends + 1’ minimum
Width: should be 7’ (minimum) to 8’ wide for 4’ wide beds. You can buy this on amazon or order from harmony farm supply.
For a 12’ tunnel you will need a minimum length of 19-20’of row cover, at least 7’ wide.
Rocks, Bricks, Soil
Enough rocks/bricks to weigh down floating row cover about every two feet
OR use soil to weigh down one long side of the tunnel. The soil technique will limit harvest accessibility on that side.
Lay out the garden area you are going to protect. You will be planting before you need to worry about frost protection, so site and dimension your fall garden accordingly. The rods can successfully span about 4 feet, so measure that width. Determine your length. It is sometimes easier to have two shorter tunnels than one long tunnel. If you like things to be really straight, lay out with string and a tape measure. In wintertime the sun will not be directly overhead. It will be at a lower angle in the sky. Make sure the area will still be in full sun during wintertime. If you have more than one tunnel, make sure one tunnel will not shade the other tunnel.
Take your fiberglass rods and jam them down in the ground every two feet on both sides of the tunnel. I try to set them about a foot deep in the soil. If you hit a rock, move the rod slightly and try again. If you want the tunnel shape to look consistent, make sure the angle of the rod going into the ground is the same everywhere. I don’t recommend setting the rods further apart than 2 feet. It will be too flimsy.
Now, pull your row cover across the rods.Center it widthwise and lengthwise. On all sides, you should have at least 6” of extra row cover lying on the ground. If you don’t have quite enough, try pushing the rods further into the ground. Rain/water does pass through floating row cover to nourish your plants. Floating row cover comes in a variety of weights. Lighter-weight row cover allows for more light transmission, offers a bit lessfrost protection than heavier covers, and can double as an insect barrier in warmer weather. Heavier-weight row cover gives you a little more frost protection, but less light transmission. I usually use lighter row cover.
Place your rocks/bricks over the extra flap of row cover on the ground. This will secure the cover and keep it from blowing away during a winter storm. Be generous with your rocks/bricks…it’s a bummer to have your cover blow away and see the devastating results in your garden.
What else do you do to get ready for winter in fall? Do tell!