With winter, everything slows down. Evenings are long, and time is available for fire-gazing and musing about life. But a gardener’s awareness never turns too far from their growing goals—or the warmer seasons to come.
I moved into a new house this year, and my first priority was mapping out where the garden would go. I couldn’t quite tell where my roommate’s partner had grown some stuff in the past, so I picked the barest spot along the perimeter of the fence and got to work.
The soil had been covered in landscape fabric (ugh!) under mulch and looked grey, thick, cracked, and dead. I did a little digging but soon decided the best approach is to always work with, rather against, nature. So I planted a cover crop.
My cover crop of choice was rye, a quick growing grass that can tolerate cold Boulder winters. I tried inter-cropping some arugula and spinach, but most of those seedlings didn’t do well in the wet, clay soil. Some survived but were too tiny to eat. I’m excited about waiting until spring when the soil warms and seeing if their established roots can deliver them a boost of energy and nutrition and thus give me tasty, early-spring salads.
At the start of the spring, I’ll dig my cover crop into the earth, preventing it from re-seeding as well as allowing the decaying bits to give my soil a dose of the all-important organic matter that plants crave. Because the grass will be green when it’s worked into the earth, the nitrogen and carbon found in the leaves will slowly decompose with the aid of fungi, bacteria, and earthworms, whose presence in the soil is also beneficial. After spending countless years smothered underneath the weed-barrier fabric, the soil was probably pretty dead compared to the healthy ecosystem it’s meant to be. Now, in the dead of winter, is the time to begin the rejuvenation process.
With healthy soil comes healthy plants and healthy people who get the joy of eating those plants, and that, in the end, is our goal.
I also started some garlic and transplanted some wild scallions/walking onions from another part of the yard. They just had time to send up a few green shoots before snows began to fall. Now, they’re laying dormant under a layer of mulch. These, too, will make it through winter and survive our snows to greet the sun of springtime and, eventually, the dinner table a few steps away from where they will soon sprout anew.