Clearing the Garden of Winter’s Food Plants- March 2014

As the sun is strengthening and temperatures are rising, it’s time to clear away the remnants of the winter vegetables. This is bittersweet. We get to enjoy the work of our labor and eat a bounty of varied and fresh offerings. But, like the departure of old friends, we will miss the plants we had an almost daily relationship with, nurturing them through the worst of times and cheering them on as they produced. It is important to clear your garden out in a careful way so that when you return to plant again next season, you will be working with a cleaner slate.

If possible, cut plants off at the soil level, leaving the roots in the ground to add organic matter. The entire plants of legumes, such as peas and beans, and tomatoes can be turned into the soil and left to rot over the summer. They will add precious nitrogen fertilizer to the soil.

Tough-stemmed plants, such as kale, cabbage stems, broccoli, collards, etc. should be composted before being put back into the garden. The stems need prolonged moisture to break down. Don’t allow the stems to dry thoroughly before composting- they only get tougher to decompose.

Plants that had suffered diseases, such as powdery mildew, blight, rusts or wilts should be destroyed rather than placed into a compost bin or turned into the soil. I usually set them aside and burn them in my (covered) fire pit when they have dried enough. Plants that had no visible signs of disease can be put into the compost bin and reapplied to the garden.

Using these basic guidelines can help you avoid spreading diseases into the next growing season and recycle some of the nutrients that would otherwise be lost from the garden.


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