It finally feels like fall is here! There’s still lots growing in the garden (and appearing on our menus at the girl & the fig and the fig cafe), including summer squash and zucchini (they just don’t stop!), peppers and herbs, tomatoes, beans, and leafy greens.
And while we’re pulling in many of the final harvests of the year, transitioning some rows over to cool season crops, and compiling the ingredients for our winter composting, we’re also keeping an eye to the coming winter season, and getting ready to put some of the rows “to bed” for winter.
There are a few important steps to take in winter prep that will preserve and improve your soil, even when if you take the winter off of farming.
It might be tempting after a strenuous growing season to let plants fall where they stand. That is, to continue harvesting as the plants wither, and then leave them in the rows until spring. This isn’t advisable because pests, fungi, and other plant-borne maladies can be harbored over winter and potentially contaminate your fragile spring seedlings.
Best to clear the rows as you go – pull weeds and spent plants, fallen fruit and leaves (much of this can go right to the compost pile).
The next step is to protect your valuable top soil from exposure to the elements. Depending on the size of the area you are working with, this might be as simple as raking a layer of brown leaves over the garden bed or laying a thick blanket of straw. This will also help to encourage worms and other beneficial organisms in your soil over winter.
Cover crops are a great 2-for-1 boost to your garden in the off season. They provide a dense network of roots that will hold on to your top soil and prevent erosion, as well as drawing in nitrogen and other soil-feeding nutrients from the air. Many of them can be used as “green manure” when the planting season rolls around again, by tilling them into the soil to add new organic matter.
Also, remember to mulch your perennials this month to keep their roots warm and protected over winter!
If you were a timely gardener and sowed your winter crops in September and October, you might already be harvesting carrots, radishes, and leafy greens. Lucky for us in Sonoma Valley, hard freezes are infrequent, and many crops will over-winter and provide us with crunchy, delicious cool-season crops for many of the coming months. (See our “purple” post on beautiful cold weather veggies.)
If you weren’t, there’s still time to plant alliums such as garlic and shallots (and, of course, cover crops.) Many winter vegetables will develop a sweeter flavor and crisp texture in cold months that are so enjoyable on a hearty winter plate!
I always feel fortunate to live in a county where winter produce can be every bit as gorgeous, fresh, and flavorful (if slightly less plentiful) in winter as in summer.
Case in point – on this week’s Plat du Jour, roasted persimmons, a peculiar cold-weather treat, were the star of the show. Other winter delicacies that I always look forward to – quince (often used as quince mostarda or quince butter in our restaurants), charred Brussels sprouts (I wait for these all year!), and local cauliflower (such as in our cauliflower gratin recipe).
How’s your winter garden growing? What winter foods do you look forward to most in Sonoma or elsewhere?
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