Get Your Garden Ready for Winter

Want to avoid the mess of mulching, roto tilling, weeding, and fertilizing your garden next spring? Then get that dirt winter-ready with a very simple gardening technique.

We've found that combining Ruth Stout's traditional methods of mulch gardening with the lasagna gardening approach yields weed-free, fertile soil that you likely won't have to add anything to in order to get great yields with crops and flowers.

I set out two weeks ago to begin a process so simple, it's amazing anyone tills, weeds, buys weed-blocking gardening fabric, and that there exists an actual industry for fertilizers when discarded food scraps and a few earthworms are so readily available.

The main garden is comprised of raised rows to keep plants from drowning in heavy rains (clay-rich soil means very little drainage). So first things first: I plucked all the okra, string bean, squash, and broccoli stalks (and all others, you get the idea). I spread junk mail, cardboard, and newspaper over the mounds of dirt, and topped the paper products with the stalks of all the plants I pulled.

Next I dumped a layer of compost over the concoction—an ongoing project that requires emptying our compost bucket along the rows as we go along; but also included me raking out our big compost cage located in a far corner of the garden. I'm also adding to the rows the gross stuff I rake out of the chicken coop and wood ash from our stove.

It's not a pretty sight; and if we were, say, in the suburbs, I'd probably add a thin layer of topsoil to the mix for aesthetics' sake. The goal is to have a pile that's roughly 18 inches tall. Once the snow starts falling, these rows will be small incubated hotbeds of activity as all that stuff breaks down.

Come spring, we can plant directly into the rows—which will by then be stacks of rich, dark soil just begging for seeds to hold onto and turn into food.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.