The days are growing darker and there is a bite in the morning breeze. Before the first frost hits, which for Portlanders is around November 15th, the homestead needs to be prepped for winter. We have had some fierce rain and wind storms already, so when we had a clear weekend I jumped on my garden to-do list.
As we all know, vegetable plants suck a ton of nutrients out of the soil every season. Every winter I try to balance the need for a winter garden with the need to replenish nutrients in the soil. The two beds that grew my winter garden last year are allowed to take a break, while the other two beds get planted out.
The two beds that grew my winter garden last year were densely planted this summer with tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and beans. In between these bushy plants, I snuck in dozens and dozens of leeks.
I left the cold-hardy leeks, but pulled out all the warm-season plants. I added a nice, fluffy layer of used chicken bedding in between the leeks. This does two important things: the straw keeps the soil from getting too compacted from winter rains and the chicken manure will break down over winter to add nitrogen back into the soil. In early spring, I will turn the mostly composted straw into the beds before planting for summer.
There are lots of vegetables that can be cold-hardy, but that doesn’t mean they will put on a lot of “new” growth during winter. It just means they won’t die off. To keep my vegetables growing enough to give us winter harvests, I make my two winter beds into mini hoop houses.
I already have rebar dug into either side of the beds with pvc pipes attached to them. I attach greenhouse plastic to the hoops, securing them snuggly and tying up the ends. You can read more about that setup in my older post from last year. This makes a mini greenhouse that will keep the soil and plants a bit warmer this winter. The drawback is that I’ll need to water it periodically, since the rain is kept out along with the cold.
The chickens enjoy this seasonal changing of the guard because they get extra goodies. Their biggest score was the Lacinato kale that I love so much, which was at least a year old and five feet high – although the picture above is their first course of swiss chard leaves that had leaf miner in them. It took them just a couple hours to devour it all.
I love this time of year! Our cupboards are stocked, the chickens are fat and happy, and the garden beds are all prepped for the cold months ahead. I’m ready for a winter break and excited to dream about how great next year’s garden will be.