Part two of our Year-Round Gardening series will focus on Year-Round Garden Soil Preparation.
Year-Round Gardening is pretty intense! Year-Round Garden Soil Preparation is the key to keeping your garden soil healthy and productive. We don’t plant our whole garden year-round, but we do plant 1 of our 25 x 4-foot main garden beds as a year-round bed each year. Additionally, we plant at least one of our raised beds as well.
I have three 4 x 8 Cold frames. Combined these three frames will cover an entire garden bed. This bed is used very intensely throughout the year. The beds that we use for our year-round garden end up being continuously planted for as much as 18 months.
Here’s the rotation that we use now.
Year One – Spring/Summer
The first year in the spring all three beds are planted to peas, we do peas here on purpose because they help add nitrogen back into the soil. (Learn more about growing peas here). The peas finish up around July 1st and then these beds have the only time off they will have for a long time, about 30 days.
Year One – Fall/Winter
Next, on August 1st the beds are divided in 3 and planted in 1. lettuce (and other greens) 2. Carrots 3. Spinach, beets, and Chard. We put the actual cold frames out around October 1st, in preparation for our first frost date which usually happens around that time. These beds then produce (and are replanted) all winter long and in the early spring.
Year Two – Spring/Summer
Later, in early spring the carrot bed gets planted to potatoes. Two months later in the spring, the lettuce and spinach beds are planted to green beans, sunflowers, and zucchini. And when the potatoes are done in mid-July that bed is also planted to green beans. All of those finally come out around October first (note this is the second October).
So as you can see the beds are constantly planted from around March 15th in year one (the peas) until October 1st (the beans) in year two. That makes 18 months under continuous planting for those beds!
Year-Round Garden Soil Preparation
Because these beds are used year-round it is extremely important that you add compost to the soil often. Year-Round Garden Soil Preparation is so very important. You can very quickly deplete the soil of its nutrients if you are not constantly amending the soil. Every time these beds are replanted I add compost. I also use that 30-day window on the first of July to do some extra amending of the soil. If soil tests show your soil lacking in nutrients then the first of July is the perfect time to make additions.
To improve Year-Round Garden Soil Preparation, I also make sure that I never leave the cold frames or hoops in place longer than needed. I want to be sure the beds are open to the air and rain as much as possible. The cold frames remain in place for 5 or 6 months a year and I want to be sure the beds get aired out to prevent the build-up of disease or pests.
As part of my year-round garden soil preparation, you can see above I usually try to dig the bed a few weeks before I replant. I then try to give the chickens a chance to dig through the bed to add a little fertilizer and clean out bugs. The bed you see above was full of spinach and Swiss chard last winter and spring, I then planted parsley and string beans for the summer which I dug up a week ago. This bed is the last of our winter beds to be planted. It will contain lettuce, kale, Chinese cabbage, mache, and claytonia. Most of these will be planted from starts except the mache and claytonia.
Water is Important
Because you are planting in late summer and fall, water is very important. In the spring cool temperatures and rain help the seedlings along. But the hot weather of August and September requires that you pay really close attention to keeping your seedlings wet. I usually water every day in August and about every other day in September. This seems to really help the plants get off to a great start.
Crop Rotation is a must
Crop rotation is a very important part of Year-Round Garden Soil Preparation. Again because of the intense usage you need to be sure to rotate the types of crops you plant. I try to keep lettuces and mache in one bed, carrots on their own, spinach, chard, and other crops in a third. And rotate each year. The hoop houses are used for kale, lettuces, and carrots. We have our garden set up on a 4-year crop rotation system (read more about it here). That means that each bed is only used as a year-round bed once every 4 years. This is a good rotation plan because of how intensely the beds are used during their 18-month stint as our year-round beds.
Don’t plan on planting any warm-season crops in your winter beds during the summer before they will be used as winter beds. There will be a 30-day dead spot, for most of us in July, when you just don’t have anything planted. 30 days isn’t enough time to get anything to grow and July is too soon for most of us to plant fall crops. Most winter crops need to be planted by August 1st in the northern latitudes so always keep that in mind when planning winter crops.
Location, Location, Location
Location is also important. At our last house, our cold frames sat close to a south-facing fence. This offered them the maximum amount of sunlight in the winter along with some added wind protection by the fence. South-facing is a must if you live in the northern hemisphere. The cold frames have to be able to collect as much sunlight as possible. I’ve had neighbors try both west and east-facing exposures resulting in epic failures. In our new garden, our cold frames run east to west and face south. The beds we use for the winter garden are out in the middle of the garden where they will be away from the LONG winter shadows of trees, fences and other structures.
Don’t forget, If you really want to learn about year-round gardening then you need to take advantage of our Year-Round Gardening video course. It is packed with over 5 hours of instruction on growing a year-round garden! Start learning now by clicking on the link above.