Winter Soil Building
Even if you don’t actively garden in the winter, you should consider adopting a winter soil-building program. The micro-organisms in your soil don’t migrate or go dormant like many of the above-ground creatures that inhabit our eco-systems. The living part of your soil remains active through the winter, and doing a few things to help them survive the extremes in weather that can prevail during this time of year will give you a headstart next spring.
To help your soil micro-biome sustain during the winter months, you might want to consider adopting some of these practices in your winter garden
Leave the Roots in the Soil
If you don’t plan to winter garden, don’t pull your summer plants out of the ground unless you suspect that they may be diseased or infested with below-ground pests. Cutting the stalks of the plants at ground level leaves the root structures intact below ground. The roots will provide organic matter for the organisms in the soil-biome. As the roots decay, they leave openings in the soil for the large organisms to inhabit and provide channels for water infiltration. Soil tilth will increase, as well.
Plant cover crops
Keeping living roots in the soil is one of the best ways to keep your soil-biome healthy. Many organisms in the soil depend on the symbiotic relationship with the plants for the sugars needed to sustain during the winter months. Keeping living roots in the soil insures that there will be a viable and healthy culture of soil organisms in the spring. Planting cover crops can also be a way to increase the fertility of your soil by adding nitrogen and other micro-nutrients back to the soil. Green mulching can also help protect the soil from damage from the sun. Choose cover crops that will trap nitrogen or help repel or reduce the effect of pests and diseases in the soil.
If you can’t or choose not to plant cover crops as a green mulch, add brown mulch to the surface of your garden. A heavy thick layer of wood chips or similar material will help protect your soil from extremes in temperature and reduce the loss of moisture due to evaporation. The mulch layer will also begin to decompose and add organic matter to the soil providing nutrients to the soil-biome that will eventually become plant nutrients.
Compost is the Key
Adding compost under your mulch layer can be a good idea. I like to mix my compost with dry molasses and worm casting to give the soil-biome an extra boost. Remove the tops of your summer garden plants but leave the roots, spread a 1 to 3-inch layer of organic compost (I prefer composted cotton burrs) then spread a good thick layer of wood chip mulch on top. If you can’t source wood chip mulch, almost any other good organic mulch material will work, such as clean straw or leaves.
Continue to water your garden during the winter months. There are several reasons to keep watering during the winter. Good soil moisture is critical for the soil-biome to remain healthy during the cold weather. The moisture in the soil will also help moderate temperature changes in the soil. There is no schedule or method to decide when and how much to water other than to check your garden soil and water as necessary.
In our organic system, we advocate the basic premise that we should feed the soil, not the plants. Feeding the soil is not just about fertilizing; it is about caring for those creatures that inhabit the soil-biome all year, even when we aren’t actively gardening.
Links and Resources
For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.
If you found the information here helpful, you might also find these articles on our website of interest.
If you have more specific questions or problems, you can contact us using the contact form on our website. You can also post your question to our community forum at this page; West Texas Organic Gardening Community Forum.
We have a Facebook page and love your comments, questions, or input. You can find us on Facebook using this tag. @westtexasorganicgardening