Putting Your Garden to Bed
Our primary responsibility as gardeners is to nurture and protect the soil. The saying "feed the soil and the soil will feed you," is true. One way to return nutrients to the soil is to plant a cover crop. Ideally, a cover crop would have been seeded in September/October. But if you live in a milder microclimate and the soil is not too wet, there still may be time early in December. But hurry! Fava beans are one of the more popular options—the plants will lessen winter rain erosion and their roots will fix nitrogen in the soil. Chop and drop them when they flower in early spring to get the maximum benefit.
cover crops - favas and rye
If you don’t want to plant a cover crop (or it’s too wet or too late), add a thick layer of compost to your food garden. It will aid in retarding winter weed growth and decompose over winter to provide an organic source of nitrogen to your spring crops. Plus, it will improve soil tilth and feed the beneficial microorganisms that help plants uptake nutrients in the soil. There is no need to turn the compost into the soil. Mother nature (rain, macro-organisms such as worms, heaving of the ground and gravity) will do all the work. There are additional benefits to practicing minimum soil disturbance (aka "no till"). Protect this layer of compost from runoff and wind by adding a layer of organic mulch (rice straw—not hay that has seeds—and leaf mulch are two popular food garden mulches). These will break down more slowly, returning additional nutrients to your soil.
Compost used as mulch - no-till
Now you can settle down with some hot apple cider and your seed catalogs to plan your spring food garden.
Soil is the backbone of any garden. Amend the soil now with at least 2" of compost and cover it with 2" mulch.
From November 18th to January 18th we get 10 hours or less of sunlight. Cool crops that you have planted, such as hearty cabbage, kale, chard, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, radish, turnips, leafy greens and lettuce that are 3/4 grown or almost mature will stop growing but will survive. If a hard frost is predicted, protect the plants with row covers and/or frost cloth but do not let the cloth touch the plants.
In the Garden
December 21 is the winter solstice. However, in Sonoma County, frost often arrives before that. Be prepared! Place stakes around your citrus and "hoops" over your half-hardy (tolerates light, brief frost) winter vegetables (e.g., lettuce, peas, many Asian greens, cauliflower, kohlrabi, chard, etc.). Have pre-cut/sized frost cloth, burlap or sheets ready to drape over these supports when frost is imminent as well as a method of securing them to the ground (irrigation staples work well if you don't mind putting a hole into the covering—or buy a hand-held grommet tool). Educate yourself about your own microclimate and what the various predictions from the weather service mean to your plants. Learn more.
Food Gardening Specialists (FGS) Videos
|Transitioning from the spring/summer food garden to fall; starting fall veggies from seeds; growing Brassicas|
|Seed saving; maintaining a healthy garden and addressing pests; beneficial insects|
|Oct 2020||Planting garlic; planting to attract pollinators and beneficials to the food garden|
|Nov 2020||Putting your food garden to bed; planting cover crops|
|Jan 2021||Growing strawberries; pruning dormant fruit trees|
|Feb 2021||Starting tomato and pepper seeds at home; growing asparagus; growing citrus in Sonoma County|
|Mar 2021||Harvesting cover crops; growing potatoes; adding drip irrigation to the food garden|
|Apr 2021||Selecting and growing tomatoes|
|May 2021||Harvesting garlic; growing cucumbers and corn; addressing common spring/summer pests|
|Jun 2021||Food gardening with children; making strawberry fruit leather; summer pruning of fruit trees|
|Jul 2021||Mulching in the food garden with a firewise perspective; growing cool-weather vegetables/fall food gardening|
|Aug 2021||Preserving tomatoes and making tomato powder and salt|
|Oct 2021||Fall gardening tips; growing fava beans; making pumpkin butter|
|Jan 2022||Growing sweet potatoes, managing slugs and snails, the benefits of using a Japanese pruning saw and preserving lemons|
|Feb 2022||Cucumber beetles, home made soil blockers, fall and everbearing raspberries fruit based dressings|
|Mar 2022||Container planting; earwigs; row covers; pickles|
|Apr 2022||Tomatoes; pests in the garden; cool season pestos|
|May 2022||Three sisters gardening; beneficial insects; trellises; strawberry freezer jam demo|
|Jun 2022||Tomato hornworms, peppers, water monitors, and fruit leather demonstration|
The Food Gardening Resources page on our website includes references for each of the above topics.
Food Garden Specialists
Food Garden Specialists (FGS) are volunteers in the UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County. They have a passion for and extra training in sustainable food gardening. In addition to offering food gardening workshops, they provide free advice and consultation services to community gardens throughout Sonoma County. Read more.