A chill is in the air. The winds have blown the leaves off the trees, and the nights are getting short. Here in Minnesota, we are getting our first snowfall today! The garden season is over, and it is time to prepare for winter. In this episode of the Small Scale Life Podcast, I am going to discuss how I will winterize the garden, tools and other gardening gear for winter.
Fall in Minnesota
We have been having a gorgeous fall here in Minnesota. The temperatures have been perfect, and the leaves on the trees have been fantastic. One comment on the leaves before we jump into the main topic: the progression of fall colors seems to have been sporadic this year. If there was a stand of trees, we would get one tree changing, and then another. It wasn’t like other years where they all changed at once. I would say that the peak colors in the Twin Cities happened around October 15th, and I took a lot of pictures of trees this fall. Julie and I will be traveling down the Mississippi River this weekend, so hopefully we will find some good views and fall color downstream!
First Snow in Minnesota
As I mentioned at the start of the podcast, the local news media has been sounding the alarms all week that we would be getting our first snowfall today (Friday). While the local weather forecasters are usually wrong about the size of these events, they were right: it started snowing last night and it is snowing as I speak. The 2017 garden season is over. It is time to get ready for the inevitable: winter is here!
This podcast and corresponding post are essential a To Do Checklist for me (and perhaps for you as well) before we get an accumulation of white stuff and the ground freezes. Once the ground freezes, it is all over here in Minnesota. It really does turn into permafrost, and if you have any dead plants in the ground, they will be stuck there until the spring thaw. Trust me: it has happened to me before with my wicking beds.
As I look at the current state of my garden and garden area, I realize I have a lot to do before that happens! As of today, I have not pulled any of my plants. I had tomatoes and peppers on the plants last night. In fact, the basil is still sprouting new leaves and there are buds on the tomatoes and peppers, even though we got our first frost on October 10, which was exactly on the National Weather Service’s average frost date for this area.
So, let’s get down to what needs to be done, shall we?
7 Steps to Winterize Your Garden
1. Harvest remaining vegetables and herbs
- You worked hard to grow those plants, so you should reap the rewards! Don’t let frost, snow and the deep freeze take that from you!
- I was looking at the forecast yesterday as the front moved in, and I saw that temperatures were going to plummet. Last night I got home and started harvesting tomatoes and peppers by flashlight. Yeah, that isn’t too sexy, especially when I dumped the container and had tomatoes all over the ground, but it worked. I am glad I harvested those last night! Now, what to do with a pile of green tomatoes?
2. Remove Plants from the Garden
- If any plants have signs of blight, remove plants and dispose of them. Do not throw them into your compost pile! If you throw infected plants into your compost pile, you could be infecting your compost with blight spores. Get rid of the plants with blight!
- If there are no signs of blight, throw the plants into your compost pile.
3. Remove Trellis String and Tomato Cages
- Unwrap and untie trellis string from the around the plants and conduit.
- If any of the trellis string wrapped around plants with signs of blight, dispose of the string. You don’t want to infect next year’s plants with blight.
- Otherwise, coil up the strings and use twisty ties to keep them organized. That way you won’t have a Christmas Vacation-like snarl of strings in the spring. Organization goes a long way, and it does help.
- Remove any tomato cages and throw them away. I am serious. I am still not a fan of tomato cages.
4. Prepare your Beds for the Spring
- If it was earlier in the fall, I would recommend planting an over-winter crop such as garlic, onions or carrots. These plants can get a start growing in the warm soil and fading fall sun and will start growing during the spring thaw. As a gardener, there is something magical about seeing a green onion shoot or garlic shoot popping up in April after a long, hard winter. I am not planting any over-winter crops this year due to changes I am going to make next spring.
- If it was earlier in the season, planting a cover crop is a great way to add nutrients to your soil. I purposely planted sugar snap peas and bush beans because we eat both vegetables and they add nitrogen to the soil. That is why farmers have a planting cycle between corn (which takes a ton of nutrients to grow) and beans. The beans naturally replace nutrients to the soil! For other ideas about cover crops, check out Old World Garden Farms articles on the subject here:
- Mulch your beds. As seen in the pictures and accompanying video, we have an abundance of leaves here in Minneapolis. I use the push mower to shred the leaves, and I add a thick layer of shredded leaves and grass to the beds. The snow and ice compress the leaf layer, and in the spring, I work the wet leaves into the soil. The leaves break down fairly quickly, adding to the richness of the soil. You will notice the earthworms and night crawlers love it too!
5. Winterize and Store Hoses and Rain Barrels
- You will want to empty your rain barrel! Water expands by about 9% when it freezes, and that is why containers that have a lid and water in them break when frozen. At the same time, water weighs about 8.3 pounds per gallon, so our full 40 gallon water barrel will weight over 330 pounds! Yeah, you want to empty that rain barrel out before moving it.
- I will also need to change the downspout. I replaced the standard downspout with a short one so that rain water would be directed into the rain barrel. Once I remove the rain barrel, I want that water to be directed away from the foundation of the house. We don’t want a wet and moldy basement! It is a quick and easy project: I just have to change a couple screws.
- Like the rain barrel, it is time to empty your hoses and drain the outside hose connection. Remember, water expands by about 9% when it freezes, so if you have water freezing in your hoses and your outside hose connection, you can run the risk of broken pipes in the middle of winter. That could create a REAL disaster inside your house! Take the time and disconnect your hoses and drain everything. Spending a few minutes now can save thousands of dollars later!
6. Clean and Sterilize Tools and Containers
- With blight infected some of my tomato plants, I want to clean and sterilize my tools and containers. I don’t want next year’s plants to come in contact with any blight! I will use Lysol or a solution of 90% water to 10% bleach. It is important to dry metal tools after cleaning, so they do not corrode.
7. Organize and Store Containers, Soil and Materials
- I will be organizing and storing the various bins, containers, soil, buckets and other odds and ends I have acquired as part of my gardening efforts. After the move, I stored them along the house near the garden bench, but I have to admit that the stack of materials does not look great. I also will be shoveling the walkway, and those materials are going to be in my way. I need to move those materials into the garage and store them there. Of course, that will kick off a garage organization and storage project as well!
8. BONUS: Cover Chairs and Tables
- We will be covering our wood patio furniture (swing and Adirondack chairs with tarps). Weather (sun, rain, snow and ice) are hard on wood furniture, and we have found this helps preserve these wood pieces. Julie has talked about spray painting the chairs before the snow hits; we’ll see if that happens.
9. BONUS: Drain and Store Lawn Equipment
- We will be draining all lawn equipment in the near future. It isn’t good for the lawn mower, blower or weed whip to leave old gas in them. I usually run the equipment until they run out of gas. Using old gas and an old spark plug are typically the reasons why your lawn equipment won’t start in the spring.
Can you tell we are going to be over the next few days?
These are pretty quick projects, and you can get them done in a day or so. Take the time; it is worth getting organized and ready for winter. You will find that being organized and having clean tools and containers will lead to a strong start this winter when you start seedlings and gear up for the new year! After all, we will be starting tomato and pepper plants in February, which is right around the corner. Do the work now, and set yourself up for success.
Next Steps and Your Turn
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Thank you again for tuning in and reading this article on Small Scale Life. Remember to grow, explore and be healthy! This is Tom from the Small Scale Life Podcast, and we’ll see you really soon!