Sunday, November 27, 2011

Winterizing an urban garden


Autumn work on the farm and autumn in the city are so very different, yet vaguely similar. Here's a few things I found in common -- sort of. I also wrote a poem about how I'm feeling about this autumn.


Water

Empty herb bed and missing rain barrel.

On the farm, getting water to garden and animals was literally a matter of life or death for flora and fauna. We had hoses stretched out to barns and gardens from spring through autumn. But as temperatures threatened a sustained freezing or below, we drained hoses and stored them in the barn to prevent bursting over winter.

In the city, we cleaned out the rain barrels, reinstalled the downspouts and drained 25 feet of hose.


Newly installed rain barrel (and lots of bed-making material)















Garden beds
My dad spent autumn days harvesting corn and prepping fields for the crop the following spring. My brothers and I helped clean out the garden, heap dead plant material on the compost pile and cover the beds with mulch. With the exception of scale, this is largely what Jay and I did on one of the last nice weekends of the autumn. We cleaned out our community garden bed, and at home, harvested all our herbs, ripped out the annual flowers, chopped down the perennial vegetation such as lilly, iris and hosta leaves. The leaves and stems of the very prolific wave petunias would have overwhelmed even my ambitious home composting system, so we had to take them to the county compost site. The farm equivalent would have been to drive the tractor to a field and left them to compost on their own.
Wave petunias mid-season.
They grew much wavier and wildly colorful by late summer.
All that remains is the dusty miller and leaf mulch to protect the soil
Leaves
During my 13 years on the farm, five years of college and 10 years of renting, "raking leaves" meant nothing to me. They blew around the yard, off into the fields and effectively disappeared. Then I bought a house, and then I moved to Jay's house, both of which had enough tree action that the leaves couldn't be ignored.

Composting leaves seems like a good idea, but they are voluminous. Last year my neighbor Randy told me that he was done raking and he was just going to mow over the leaves where they lay. "Good for the soil and good for my back," he told me. We took it a step further. We gathered all the leaves on our front sidewalk and mowed over them, back and forth, until they were leaflets. This year we got smarter and simply gathered leaves in the back yard and ground them up on the dirt. We filled two plastic garbage cans and spread the rest on the flower beds to protect the soil over the winter. The leaves in the bins will be our compost "brown" to match whatever "green" we add to our compost bins from the kitchen.

Our autumn compost bin prep includes two plastic garbage cans with tight lids full of  shredded leaves.  As "green" garden waste is dumped into the wire bin on the left, we'll add an equal amount of leaf material to keep the green/brown mixture roughly even. The wire bin at right is the summer's yard and kitchen waste newly chopped up under our mower and mixed with new leaves and dirt. It will be nicely composted by next spring.
Sticks
Trees don't just drop leaves, they drop sticks. Lots of them. I don't remember picking up sticks on the farm, but I seem to have to bend over like a duck pecking at the grass every time we mow. We store them next to the house and a couple times a year put them out on the curb. We do this in the autumn at great peril of it snowing before the city lawn and garden department comes through our neighborhood.

Sticks waiting to be picked up - before the first snow PLEASE!


Winterize
On the farm, we worked hard to winterize the house and buildings with animals. This meant staging plenty of hay for feeding and straw for bedding. In the early days, it meant putting hay bales around the exterior of the house to stop wind from blowing through the foundation. We also put away tools and machinery and moved animals to winter quarters.

In the city, we put our lawn furniture under a tarp. Not terribly romantic :) How do YOU prepare, both physically and mentally, for winter?