Here we are in the last month of the year. Many of us will ignore the garden as holiday preparations take precedence. Others are looking forward to next year. Either way, there’s plenty to do in the garden to make the springtime garden more manageable. Here’s what I do in the December garden.
15 Minutes a Day
At this time of year, we’re less inclined to go outside. Which is really too bad, because the fresh air and few minutes of movement can really benefit our health. Outside of that, spending just a few minutes tidying up now can mean the difference between “fun” and “overwhelming” when we begin preparing the spring garden.
Tasks in December
The tasks for this month are harvesting, preparing food (always prioritize using the harvest before garden work!), and preparing the garden for winter and spring.
Note: I’m in USDA hardiness zone 6a, so your experience may differ from mine.
Harvest in December
My winter harvests each year depend on the weather. We’ve had warm winters where I was still harvesting strawberries in December, while other years our first big snow and hard frost come early in November. There are many vegetables that can be grown under protection throughout the winter. Here are my favorites to harvest this time of year from the cold frame and from under row cover:
Preparing the garden for winter and spring
What you can do this time of year will depend largely on your local weather and if the ground is still workable.
First let’s manage our existing garden beds before thinking about expanding. If your ground is workable, you can do the following things.
- Cut back dead plant matter. If it was diseased, be sure to trash it. Otherwise compost it. I like to compost in place by chopping the organic matter into smaller pieces that will feed the soil life and break down easily.
- Weed garden beds.
- Add soil amendments. If you have compost soil or composted manure, now is the time to add it.
- Rake leaves and make leaf mulch, or save them for composting.
- Cover beds with a deep mulch. I like shredded leaf mulch because it’s free, but chemical-free straw is good, too.
- Cover any vegetables with a cold frame or row cover. (This isn’t necessary for garlic).
Build New Beds
If you plan to build new beds, now is a great time to do it. There will be so much to do in the spring, why not get this part done? Of course, if the ground is frozen, it’s better to wait.
Our Raised Beds on the Driveway
Above is a picture of one of the raised beds we built on our driveway in December of 2010. It’s 24 inches high. We eventually built a second one to the right of it where the pallets are.
When constructing a raised bed on an impervious surface, make the bed as tall as possible – roots will need all the room you can give them. We probably should have made this bed another 8-inches taller, although we haven’t seen any negative consequences in the plants.
A deeper bed will also hold water longer, requiring less frequent irrigation.
Fill the bottom 6-8 inches with gravel before filling it the rest of the way with soil. This will take A LOT of soil. The gravel will help with drainage and keep the soil from washing away in a heavy rain. We did some major composting in the summer leading up to this project and were able to supply all the soil this bed needed.
Take note that the soil will settle, that’s why we built it in December. By springtime we added a bit more soil and were ready to plant.
Here’s to a healthy and productive December garden!
Are you preparing for spring or are you preparing for the holiday this time of year?