By Matthew Briggs, Edible Campus Gardens
Winter is here, and with it comes the end of soaking up sun in the garden. But before you hang up your tools there are a few things you can do to hit the ground running to prepare for spring. Here are three overwintering techniques to keep your garden healthy and productive through the cold season.
Garlic, onions, spinach, and shallots are some of the most popular crops to overwinter by planting directly into your garden, if you get started early enough. The plants will develop a small root system and then enter dormancy through the coldest part of winter. By the time spring rolls around you’ll have a head start on the season! Overwintered crops can be harvested several weeks to a few months before spring planted crops. Look for particular cultivars or specialized varieties of beans and peas that will last the whole winter. Check with your favorite seed supplier, they’re sure to have tons of information on which varieties will do best. If you don’t have a preferred seed supplier, try out Sustainable Seed Company, they are a great resource for gardeners of any skill level.
Did you know that some of your favorite veggies, like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, are actually perennials? Tender perennials to be more exact. Many plants grown as annuals in our climate are native to places with warmer winters. Which means that you can protect your plants and keep them alive until next winter. Now, there are several strategies for this. If you have the space, you can simply keep your plant in a pot. When winter comes you simply pull the plant inside, and put it near some sunlight to wait out the cold weather. If you don’t have the space for potted tomatoes growing in your tiny apartment, just take cuttings (3-6 in.) from a healthy plant and pot them indoors with some sunlight. Be sure to make a clean cut because bludgeoned stems do not produce roots as well. Take more than you need because a 100% success rate is almost unheard of.
Cover Crop and Mulch
It’s important to remember that you’re not just a caretaker of plants. Your first priority should be growing your soil, which will grow plants for you! Winter can wreck your soil structure if not properly managed. Cover crops and mulching can go a long way in protecting your soil from erosion and compaction. Clover and Vetch are excellent cover crops. Being legumes they’ll fix nitrogen straight out of the air and put it back into your soil. This process gives your soil an extra boost when you till or compost the plants. Always read the information on the cultivar you select to make sure it’s a good choice for your climate and needs. Mulching will protect your soil from wind erosion as well as help insulate your soil, which is especially helpful if you have direct seeded or planted a cover crop. Simply buy some hay or just use the leaves from all over your yard to uniformly cover your entire garden.
It’s late in the season but you can still take steps to protect your plants and soil. Check out the Old Farmer’s Almanac planting guide for Salt Lake City for guidance and go put your garden to bed!
Matthew Briggs is a pre-design student at the U. You can find him turning compost, working in the greenhouse, or leading volunteer sessions in the gardens.