Fall is here and winter is on it's way and this girl couldn't be happier about it! This extreme extrovert used to dread the solitary winter months; mourning the cookouts and days spent on the river with friends. But now I welcome old man winter with open arms and a big bear hug.
The more time we spend working the land, we cannot help but living in sync with the seasons. In late winter we are planting seedlings indoors and planning for the upcoming season. Springtime brings yard cleanup, garden prep and planting. Summer and Fall are filled with endless weeding, harvesting, preserving and creating. In truth, by the beginning of November I am burnt out and ready for it all to be over.
I find myself getting invigorated by the fall chores surrounding getting "bedded down for the winter." My mind has come to associated these tasks with the onset of winter hibernation. Gone is the need to weed and my harvesting gets reduced 10 fold in the winter; allowing more space for relaxing and reading in the warmth of my house, oh yeah!
When I first started planting our perennial beds I was confused about what time of year I was supposed to chop the plants back. I did lots of googling; reading blog after blog. No one ever seemed to give a definitive answer; it mostly seemed to be personal preference. I decided that I liked cutting them back in the fall as this made my property look "clean," it put an end to my gardening season and made spring easy breezy. Except for the year we had an early winter and the freshly cut plants did not have enough time to harden off before being exposed to cold, snowy weather. We lost all of our pink muhly hair grass, our lavender and most of our bee balm that winter. Live and learn, unfortunately this lesson came at the detriment to many plants.
About 10 years ago we became a certified pollinator friendly garden through the Penn State Extension. There are lots of requirements that need to be met in order to secure this certification, most of which we already had in place. The game changer for us was how you overwinter your site. One of the stipulations was that you were not allowed to cut your perennials until the spring. The dead plants provide seed sources for birds, allowing them to forge for their food. The hollow stems provide habitat and shelter for spiders and insects; creating a safe haven for them to ride out the season. And leaving the plants in place protects the soil from the extremes of winter. Once I learned all of this, it really seemed like a no-brainer and something I should have figured out on my own.
Fall clean up of our perennial beds has become pretty easy; just one last weeding (woooo hoooo!!!) and I might even throw some leaves on the beds for an extra little blanket of protection. Some of our other end of season practices include:
Pruning back trees; trimming off the dead/older limbs from our elderberry and other fruit bearing trees.
Wrapping our fig tree in burlap after trimming back older branches, protecting this Mediterranean shrub from our harsh climate. This is only going to be his second winter being planted outside and we hope to maximize our 2022 yield by trimming and wrapping.
cleaning out our drying shed and shutting down the dehumidifier for the winter as I really do not harvest/dry over the winter months.
We plant a cover crop in the annual bed at the end of September to protect the bare soil from the elements. Last year we did a crimson clover and this year we opted for oats. In the spring we will chop down the oats and turn them into the soil as green mulch; providing nutrients before we plant.
We plant our garlic bulbs, covering with straw, cut grass and piles of dead leaves to provide insulation through the winter. These beauties will work their magic underground over the cold months, emerging in the spring in all their glory. Providing garlic scapes in May and garlic bulbs by the summer solstice.
We are still learning and our practices seem to shift each year as we become more educated each trip around the sun. We plot, plan and plant having faith that we are setting up our next year's growing season for a little more success than the previous year.
"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree [today]." ~Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Are you looking forward to winter like me? Or does this time of year bring on isolation and sadness? How do you prepare for what's to come?