You often ask me how to clean the vegetable garden in the fall.
Many gardeners (myself included in the past) evacuate all plant waste from the growing beds … And till the land in anticipation of spring crops.
The place is neat! Much to the gardener’s delight…
But not from the ground!
I am not saying here that the land should absolutely not be worked.
If the soil is packed, compacted, it can be useful to do it in a way that respects life, with a Grelinette or a Campagnole.
Likewise, large clumps of clay soil will be broken by frost. Which in itself is not bad.
But that doesn’t mean you should leave the ground bare in winter…
Why not leave the soil bare in the fall and winter?
Leaving the soil bare has negative consequences:
- without protection, the mineral elements present in the soil will leach out and thus be missing from your future spring crops
- the animals and micro-organisms present in the soil are no longer protected against cold and bad weather. They will also have no food (plant, develop or decompose)
- weeds arising from bare soil (oxalis, creeping cinquefoil, bindweed, rumex, etc.) can develop at will. Sure, they will appear precisely to solve the problems of bare ground… But they are highly invasive plants that are difficult to remove afterwards. So just avoid the cause…
- the earth will not be fed…
In short, all this goes against what a permaculture vegetable garden should be…
Leave some crops in place
Some crops are hardy, at least in regions with mild winters.
For example, leeks, carrots, cabbage, parsnips, lamb’s lettuce, spinach, chard, winter lettuce and chicory, possibly protected by an overwintering veil, can simply remain in place. You will harvest them as and when you need them… These crops will basically form a ground cover.
Don’t hesitate to bloom a few summer salads, basil or flowers… This will be especially useful to provide the still active pollinating insects with some food.
But what do we do to clean up the vegetable garden in the autumn?
Leave crop residues in place
Admittedly, crop residues can be disposed of in the compost (which also needs to be fed…).
But the best (and ultimately easiest) way to protect the soil is to leave these crop residues in place.
Aside from the situations mentioned in the previous point, this is not a matter of continuing to grow the plants (which most will not, as they have reached the end of their cycle).
Rather, it is a matter of letting them cover the bottom and decompose there.
However, we know that the roots play a major role in the life of the soil.
And not just because of their effects on the structure…
They will also serve as food for microorganisms…so they will break down and convert them into nutrients for future crops.
Also, so that these roots can contribute beneficially to the life of the earth and to its fertility, instead of uprooting the plants, cut the stems off at the base.
And let the vegetation fall to the ground. You can cut the plants into small pieces if you wish…
Some will say to me that there is a risk of spreading cryptogamic diseases, such as powdery mildew or powdery mildew… This is a preconceived idea… In reality, the spores of the fungi responsible for these diseases will be destroyed by frost . ..and through the decomposition processes… which we will now promote…
Complete ground cover
Crop residue will not be enough to maintain true coverage all winter.
So we’re going to finish this cover…
As with compost, for a healthy and efficient decomposition process, the addition of organic materials to the surface must be balanced.
We are talking about a balance between green materials (nitrogen-containing materials, fast degrading) and brown materials (carbonaceous, cellulosic materials, more slowly degrading, but with more sustainable effects on the life of the soil).
So you can conveniently add nitrogenous substances above the crop waste: kitchen scraps, nettle leaves, the last cut of comfrey root, the last shreds…
Manure, RCW or hay, more balanced materials, are also welcome.
Then cover everything with dead leaves or straw (carbon materials).
Well… make with the materials at your disposal.
Crop residues covered with a BRF or hay, it will already be very good…
But keep in mind that the more diversity you include in your hedge, the better it is for the fertility of your garden soil.
Sowing green manure
If the soil in your yard is clayey, particularly heavy, packed or compacted, a ground cover like the one above may be a problem.
In fact, the Earth then runs the risk of simply remaining in this state. Even to relax a little more…
It is then preferable to sow a green manure crop after a light release with Grelinette or Campagnole.
It will also cover the ground, protect life there and make it more fertile…
And yourself, how do you do that? Do you usually clean the vegetable garden in the fall?