The blustery weather and wintry mix blanketing much of the country lead many to believe that winter is upon us, albeit a week early. It may be cold up on your roof, but you best climb up there and winterize your veggie garden or farm if you have not done so already. Here are a few helpful tips intended to lighten your springtime load:
1| Harvest the latecomers: Now’s the time to harvest the last remaining crops before frost wreaks havoc. Collect what’s left and while you’re at it, remove all remaining stems and root stock. Leaving plant material in the ground or even tilling it into the soil is risky these days with blights and other diseases lurking in the shadows. The exceptions are perennial crops (such as berry bushes and asparagus), which should stay in the ground, and nitrogen-fixing crops (like beans), which should be tilled in by hand. All plant material that you remove should be composted, unless it is diseased.
2| Blow out those lines: Your irrigation drip lines and header pipes may burst if water freezes inside. To avoid this potentially pricey nuisance, you’ll need to drain the system before the first freeze. First you’ll shut off the irrigation water supply. Next, you’ll drain the lines by opening the system’s manual drain, auto drain, or blowout valve. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s operation and safety instructions – such as those posted online by Hunter – particularly if you intend to use compressed air in conjunction with a blowout valve. Some gardeners and farmers choose to leave their drained lines in place for the season, while others remove them altogether to avoid potential damage.
3| Cover up: Reserve some end-of-season funds for cover crop seed and burlap. These simple materials will help your soil stay put (rather than blowing off the roof!) and may even provide a boost of nitrogen. Popular nitrogen-fixing cover crops include clover, hairy vetch, and field peas. Clover in particular is effective at holding soil in place, given its dense root system, but beware! Clover is invasive and damaging to ornamental green roofs, so do not use this crop if adjacent roof areas are planted with Sedum or other ornamentals. Regardless of which crop(s) you choose, get them in the ground as soon as possible after fall plant material removal so as not to leave the soil bare. Securely cover your seeded beds with burlap to prevent winnowing (soil loss) during establishment. For smaller, sheltered gardens, try mulching with straw instead of planting a cover crop.
4| Relax! The long growing season is over. Sit back, catch up on sleep, and get your winter read on.