This article from Hello Homestead includes a step on adding season extenders like the cold frames discussed in an earlier post. Getting that garden properly put to bed for the winter (or keeping it working over winter) is not accomplished by stopping gardening for the winter, much though that might appeal.
When the gardening season comes to an end, it is easy to get distracted from the pre-frost clean-up. Learning how to prepare a raised garden bed for winter, though, is essential to prepare for the season to come, even when spring is months away.
Throughout autumn, gardeners with raised beds should take several steps to ensure their garden beds are ready for next year’s seeds and seedling transplants.
“It’s an ongoing project,” said Kate Garland, horticultural specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. “I just always think of it as a to-do list for the fall.”
Properly caring for raised garden beds before winter settles in will promote soil health, ward off weeds and prevent diseases in next year’s crops. Here is how to prepare a raised garden bed for winter.
Step 1: Remove weeds
Weeding is essential well into the fall, even when the majority of your crops have stopped growing. Not only can untended autumn weeds harbor disease, but they can lay the roots for future weed problems.
“This is when people are ready to be done with weeding, but this is probably one of the most important times of year to be weeding,” Garland warned. “A lot of our weeds are setting seed right now. Some of the seeds can stay viable for 30 to 40 years or longer.”
For the parts of your raised bed that’s simply carpeted in weeds, cover them with black plastic or a layer of cardboard and leave it in place through the winter season to choke out existing weeds and suffocate sprouting weeds.
Some gardeners will till the soil to prevent weeds and expose harmful pests, but Garland suggests avoiding tillage in your raised beds as much as you can for the sake of soil health.
“There are some scenarios where [tilling] can make sense, but it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense in raised bed settings [unless the soil is really compacted],” Garland said. “If you can avoid tilling as much as possible, your soil and your gardens will thrive in the long run.”
Cold frames have been used for hundred of years to extend food growing into the colder parts of the year. The Romans used cold frames of straw or stone and used sheets of mica for lids. A greenhouse may be heated, but a cold frame typically warms up only with the sun. If you end up in a situation where you need to rely more heavily on the food that you can grow yourself, cold frames allow you to harvest more food into the winter when you would normally have to rely on food you were able to story during the summer and fall.
Toward the end of summer or early fall, it may seem too early to start thinking about winter. And it may be too late to start thinking about a solid harvest. But when it comes to survival, you’ll need to consider the importance of surviving through winter and what you can do now to survive long-term.
Sure, hunting or fishing might get you by if you’re skilled enough. And food stores might help to supplement any fresh kill or frozen meats. But the real challenge is providing yourself and your family with access to fresh food in the dead of winter that can not only get you through winter, but also springboard your garden next summer.
This is where the cold frame comes in.
What is a Cold Frame?
For the purposes of gardening, a cold frame is a transparent-roofed enclosure that is used to protect plants from cold weather. The transparent top of the enclosures allows sunlight into the box while preventing heat from escaping.
This simple device is a proven method for growing fresh food through winter and priming summer gardens earlier than weather permits. They take less space than a traditional garden, require less maintenance, and have the potential to provide far more food than the empty produce section at a supermarket.
The Benefits of Cold Frame Gardening and Food Growing
Cold frames are essential in every long-term survival skill set. These simple, yet effective exoskeletons help to extend the harvest timeline well beyond the first frost of the year. This means an early or late winter doesn’t impact your food supply as much as it does other people. During times when food is scarce and access is limited, a cold frame can provide fresh produce essential to survival. Valuable spices and herbs aid in adding flavor to otherwise bland foods. They can be dehydrated or serve as barter items. Plus, you and your family can have access to natural fiber, vitamins, and minerals essential to a healthy diet.
Cold frames help to promote an early growing period. Regions that have late frosts have to delay planting much longer, which creates a much shorter growing season. But with cold frames, starts can begin much earlier without the need for a giant greenhouse. Transplants from a cold frame have a greater potential to produce than if you were to wait until the last freeze of the year.
Beyond the dangers of early or late frosts, some of the benefits of a cold frame include less stress on plants, protection from wind, less erosion, fewer weeds, and easy access. If properly oriented and built with care, these units can keep plants alive longer, allow sowing sooner, and generate food during the darkest days…
The frame itself is dirt simple. The concept centers around retaining heat in the soil to allow plants to grow despite snow, frost, or even frozen ground nearby. Frames retain heat by absorbing sunlight in an enclosed space, much like a greenhouse. It can be as basic as a 2-liter bottle over a plant, or as complex as a conservatory. The most effective form for small-scale home gardens is a rectangular box about 2’ wide by 3-4’ long.
To create a cold frame, first locate a piece of un-tinted, single-pane glass such as an old wooden window or aluminum storm window. Anything before the era of vinyl windows will work well. Double-paned windows often contain Argonne gas or tinting that may interfere with natural sunlight, heat gain, or heat loss. If you’re handy in the shop, you may be able to build your frame out of wood and order up the glass to fit from a glass shop in your area. Clear corrugated plastic also serves the same purpose – let light in and keep the cold out.
If you are looking for something that will hold up better than glass, I suggest cheking out Lexan — this stuff can be shot with a .22lr bullet and not break!
The glass, Lexan, or clear plastic goes on top of an exterior framework. The framework consists of a simple, low-profile box that can be made of 2X6 studs or even plywood. Wood is joined and secured at the corners to provide a box that rests directly on the ground. Just remember – the thicker the wood, the better the insulation will be. Alternatives to wood frames might include brick, foam, or insulated metal siding. Regardless of the materials used to create the framework, you’ll want to build it to match the size of the window or glass frame you intend to use. You may be able to add hinges to lift the glass for access or install a repurposed sliding glass window.
You should have a rectangle of wood framework with a glass panel or frame on top that can be lifted or opened for access. Now, orient the glass to where the longest side runs parallel to the equator. You want to capture as much sunlight as possible and if snow or rainwater is an issue, adding a slope to the frame will make snow removal and access much easier. The orientation and a good slope will garner the best results possible.
Once the frame is built, oriented and set in place on the ground, you can remove dirt a few inches down and either direct-sow your plants or provide a layer of compost to help get the seedlings started. By starting in late summer or early fall, you’ll have better luck with a regular harvest in mid-winter. By sowing in late winter or early spring, you’ll have heartier plants to transplant into your survival garden during summer.
If extreme temperatures or limited sunlight prevents the cold frame from heating up, you can add a light, heat tape, a heating mat, or additional insulation around the frame to aid in heat retention. Zones 1 through 5 will likely need more insulation and lighting than zones 6-10. Additional insulation can be obtained through foam, additional wood, or even organic insulation like grass clippings or seedless yard waste.
Unlike a greenhouse, a cold frame allows for a heightened level of discretion. The low-profile design is easy to disguise with shrubs or debris to prevent theft in times of chaos. This means that even in an urban setting, with limited space and relatively high visibility, you could still maintain a solid level of security and still have access to fresh food…
John Mosby of the Mountain Guerrilla blog has some thoughts on permaculture. He’s mentioned a few times in other articles, but here are two blog posts of his where he spends a bit more time expounding upon its goodness.
I get a lot of questions about why I’m so gung-ho about Permaculture, since to the newcomer, it appears to be a “society” dominated by social justice warrior liberals. While that’s not entirely inaccurate as an observation, it’s really a simplistic approach, and ignores the inherent value of the Permaculture concept to not only survival, but tribal culture.
My general, semi-humorous answer is, I’m gung-ho about Permaculture because I’m…lazy. The ideal behind permaculture, for those unfamiliar with it, is that it is “permanent agriculture.” To whit, it involves planning and planting, in such a way that requires minimal human interference, to maintain continued useful production for decades. This is contrary to standard agriculture that requires annual replanting, fertilization, and all the related tasks and inputs that go along. I like the idea of not having to work too much to produce food, because I’m…lazy.
Really though, if we’re being serious, from a preparedness perspective, this makes sense for resilience. In a post-grid environment, I suspect I’m going to be awful busy. If I can reduce my task load then, by planting a resilient, low-maintenance food production system—a food forest—now, that seems like a no-brainer to me. It’s more labor-intensive in the front end, especially if you do it like I do, without using power equipment any more than necessary, but the back end pay out is brilliant.
In an speech he did before he died, called “Liberation Permaculture” (If you do a Google Search, you can find audio files of the speech. It’s well worth listening to.), the late Toby Hemenway, author of my favorite Permaculture book to date, Gaia’s Garden, made the point that Permaculture is really the ultimate guerrilla/insurgent/survivalist form of food production, and it is incredibly anti-totalitarian…
Permaculture is famous for its ethics and principles. These are the basic guidelines along which permaculture was codified by Mollison and Holmgren. Sadly, many readers have limited themselves to second, third, and even fourth generation permaculture teachers and writers, and much has been lost in the translation, so to speak. People have learned a shallow understanding of the tactics and techniques of permaculture, without really understanding the strategy or operational capabilities.
An example of this in preparedness can be seen in a comment I received a few months ago, in which a reader lauded the discussion of alternative energy, food production, and other aspects of daily living in a post-industrial environment, but wanted me to focus on the “partisan” aspects, by which I assume they meant the cool-guy action figure gunfighter stuff. The problem with this is something that all too often, people who have never had to plan an operation, let alone write an OpOrder, overlook: you can only “operate” so long without support in the form of food, equipment, and shelter. There’s a reason, after all, that an SF ODA has engineers and medics, as well as weapons sergeants. As a mentor in SF once asked me, “What do you call an A-Team made up entirely of Bravos?” The answer? “An understrength Ranger Platoon.”
If we approach the discussion of Permaculture from the UW perspective, the focus on Permaculture begins to make considerable sense from both an operational and a strategic perspective. If we define our UW strategy as “We don’t have to win. We don’t even have to not lose. All we have to do is make sure our supporters and the unaligned populace both know that we’ll still be here when the enemy is gone,” and we define our strategic goal as “cultural and genetic survival” rather than “individual survival,” then the permaculture approach begins to make even more sense…
…Another factor that makes Permaculture valuable is that it recognizes that human’s do not have unlimited ability to manage. That limit is often the factor that bottlenecks productivity. Permaculture’s solution is to break the property into “zones” based on how often then need to be attended to and order them in rational ways.
For example, the path between your door and the mail box is walked at least once every day. It is the ideal place to plant everbearing raspberries and strawberries or edible flowers. Bringing in the mail would also mean bringing in a small basket of fruit for dessert or for your morning cereal.
Conversely, “the woods” might only get visited a few times a year for gathering nuts, hunting or cutting wood for fuel and construction…
One of the truisms of gardening is that “Your first year of gardening will result in abject failure.” There’s so much to learn, about the plants, about starting seeds, about your local soil conditions and what amendments are needed, about weather and climactic conditions, etc.
We had gardens when I was a kid. We successfully raised rocks, tomatoes, rocks, okra, rocks, and peas, as I recall. Of course, as any gardener will tell you, those are some of the simplest crops to raise in a kitchen garden. In fact, they’re so easy to grow, you could almost grow them without even planting them (especially the case with rocks…).
After leaving home for the Army, I had never had a garden. Hell, I’d never had a potted plant.
My wife had never, as far as I know, had a garden in her life.
So, when we decided to start raising most of our own food, to increase our sustainability, my first instinct was to raise small livestock: chickens, rabbits, etc. Of course, I’m a meat-eater, both literally and figuratively, so that makes sense. My wife on the other hand, likes her veggies, and we want the kids to eat well-balanced meals, so a garden, it was decided, was a necessity (And, to be clear, by “it was decided,” I mean, HH6 said, “We’re going to plant a garden this year!” and I responded with, “Roger that, boss!”)
So, as is my norm, when confronted with a new, unfamiliar—foreign—mission, I started doing my “Area Study” research. I dug out a couple dozen books on subsistence gardening, organic gardening, no-till gardening, and etc.
Let me set your mind at ease: there’s a metric …ton of material available out there on gardening, and it’s fair to say that any given reference book on the subject will contradict what every other available reference book will say.
In the end, between our research, and my wife and I bickering about differing visions for the farm’s production, here’s what we ended up trying…
I think the person who taught me the most, especially about homesteading, was my wonderful late grandmother.
She was a young woman in England during the Second World War. It was a difficult time for everyone, especially families. Food and resources were limited, and morale had to be kept up. She and her friends learned so many new skills in order to cope, and managed to make it through in one piece.
My grandmother passed on some of her homesteading skills to me, which has been invaluable for our own experience. Along with those skills, she taught me to be resourceful, resilient, imaginative and tough, and I’ll always be grateful to her for that.
In this post, I want to pass my grandmother’s wartime beginner homesteading skills on to you.
I think there’s something wonderful about taking the painful lessons that our parents and grandparents learnt during difficult times, and then learning and growing from them. I sometimes wish I could go back in time. I would go and speak to my grandmother, aged 17, trying to get a coop of stubborn chickens to lay eggs, and I would tell her that generations and decades into the future, her granddaughter would be applying those lessons to her own homesteading life. I think she’d be happy about that.
To put together this post, I’ve gone back through our family archives, my grandmother’s old notebooks and a few Internet sites to collects facts, pictures and lessons we can learn from today. I’ve found the old WWII posters that my grandmother will have seen at the time, and will share those with you…
…According to Marjory Wildcraft of www.thegrownetwork.com, it is just too land intensive to realistically support a family on the hunter-gatherer system. She states: “Let’s start first off with the almost magical dream of the pure hunter/gatherer. I often hear this one from those concerned about a collapse of civilization. Just how much land does it take to support you without destroying all the wildlife and plant populations? How much area do you need in order to live sustainably as a hunter/gatherer? Since there are so few actual hunter/gathers left alive on the planet, and the few places where they do still exist tend to be jungles which look nothing like anything in North America, we will turn to anthropological data. The quick and easy answer is that traditional peoples used on average, about 10 square miles per person. Ten square miles is 6,400 acres – that is for one person.”
So what’s the answer? It just might include creating your very own self-sustaining food supply. Call it survival landscaping, permaculture, sustainable agriculture or whatever you like. The goal is to work with nature to create a truly sustainable system. A garden paradise that requires little or no human intervention once established. Due to the “natural looking” nature of this type of landscape most individuals would never suspect the amount of life-saving food growing in the tangle. Thus protecting your food supplies in plain sight.
The objective is to create an environment which requires very little human intervention once it is established.
The ideal permaculture design produces food year after year without weeding, pruning, tilling, fertilizing or using pesticides and herbicides. The system is perfectly balanced for the local climate. It is possible to accomplish permaculture landscape on a half-acre city lot as well as in a more spacious country environment. Permaculture takes many years to establish and become resilient to changing conditions.
Selection of plants is critical to take best advantage of local climate conditions, ensure natural balance and to extend the harvest throughout the entire growing season. There are a growing number of great reference books to guide you through the process. Many of the authors recommend a more “natural or wild looking” landscape which is perfect for a remote bug out location, but may not be welcomed in a gated community…
You’ll find zucchini in a lot of local gardens. The squash is yummy and nutritious, but also grows quickly and is an early garden producer which usually produces its low calorie fruit in abundance. Zucchini recipes abound almost as much as the fruit itself. But did you know that you can eat the stems, too? A relative recently passed along a recipe for Zucchini Stem “Penne” which we tried out today. The zucchini production is over for the year for us, but we still had several large zucchini vines sprawling in their corner of the garden. Our stems were old and large. The consistency of the resulting “penne” is a bit more like celery than pasta, but it makes for an interesting dish and is definitely good to know if you need to squeeze all the food and calories from your garden that you can. Our two- and four-year old kids enjoyed it. We’ll try it again next year with some younger stems and see if there is a tenderness difference.