Fall is closing in on us and it's time to start thinking about prepping beds for winter. There's a few options from cleaning up your bed and letting it lie fallow for the season to extending your season and continuing to grow winter crops or overwintering crops.
Regardless of what you choose to do to your bed, you should remove all plant parts, including leafy material, and pieces of tomatoes so that late blight spores cannot continue to reproduce throughout the winter and affect your (and your neighbors!) plants next year. Please trash all plant material rather than compost so we don't continue the cycle.
Prepping Bed for Winter
Remove all plant parts and spread amendments (manure/compost) evenly over the area before you till. You'll need a lot of manure and/or compost to feed microorganisms and help the soil remain open and well-drained. Fall tilling is about opening up the soil to incorporate amendments, relieve compaction, increase oxygen and improve drainage. The deeper you get the better. Because you're not planting right afterward, it's best to rough till once in each direction. This leaves the surface irregular with large chunks of earth. The clods will gradually erode over the course of the winter, carrying amendments deeper down with the runoff. You can litter the entire surface with a mulch of shredded leaves, hay or straw to prevent erosion.The ground will flatten out considerably by spring when you'll need only fine till to prepare for planting.
You can also plant cover crops to improve your soil in preparation for spring planting. Cover crops can be planted as a cost effective way to improve your soil. Use cover crops to build organic matter, fix nitrogen, draw nutrients from the soil, prevent erosion, and break pest and disease cycles. Hudson Valley Seed Library seeds here. September is the best time to plant cover crops. In the spring, break up the plants and till your soil to bury the cover crop. The cover crop will decompose, creating compost in your bed for your seasonal plants.
Adding coffee grounds to the top of your bed to deter cats from using as a litter box. Coffee grounds will also add nutrients to the soil.
A soil test can also help to determine if your soil will benefit from amendments to add specific nutrients and adjust pH. You can get soil tests done through: Environmental Sciences Analytical Center at Brooklyn College, Cornell Nutrient Analysis Laboratory, or UMass Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden has more detailed info on why you would want to test your soil here.
Winter Harvest Crops
As plants are dying or stopping production, you can use the space to plant for a winter harvest. Fall is like spring in terms of cooler temperatures, so you can plant greens, kale, carrots, beets, radishes, cilantro, swiss chard, brussel sprouts, bunching onions. Johnny's Seeds has a real nice selection of seeds for planting here and gives detailed growing information. Hudson Valley Seed Library also has a nice selection of seeds.
Overwintered Crops are planted in the fall or winter, and left in place for the earliest possible spring harvest. What is important is to purchase seeds that are hardy varieties that can withstand freezing temperatures. For example, carrots can be overwintered but you will be more successful if you plant a hardy variety of carrot. Garlic can also be planted, but harvest is around June or July, rather than early spring. Johnny's Seeds overwintering crops are here and a pretty informational article about the most successful crops to overwinter here. Johnny's did a trial on overwintering onions, that is super in depth for anyone expressing interest in onions here.
Hoop Houses - Extending Season
Hoops over your bed can also help extend your season to keep warm air in and the frost out when planting for a winter harvest or overwintering crops for a spring harvest. I recommend PVC pipes that are anchored to the sides of the bed. Wrap the hoops with plastic or row cover and anchor to your bed. Johnny's Seeds has a nice selection of products to do this here. If you use plastic, you will need to make sure your bed is getting watered since plastic will keep water out.