Protecting root and stem crops with a thick, insulating blanket of winter mulch is the easiest – and cheapest – way to stretch your homegrown harvest into January and February. You don’t need to buy or build any structures like cold frames or mini hoop tunnels, and you can typically source your mulching material for free by using leaves or straw.
On my own property, I gather about 40 bags of leaves per year. Before raking and bagging, we run them over with the lawn mower to shred them into small pieces. Whole leaves tend to mat together, while shredded leaves form a light, fluffy mulch. I am also the recipient of about 20 bags of leaves from my dog-free neighbours – which are then put to good use in my winter garden and leaf compost bin.
Straw is also a great mulching material, but it can cost up to $10 per bale, depending where you live, so I’m going to let you in on a little secret. (Promise you won’t tell anyone?) As supermarkets, hardware stores, and homeowners clean up their exterior autumn and halloween decor, they often have straw bales to discard and I am happy to take them off their hands! I nabbed about 20 bales of straw this autumn – for free!
Winter mulch is best applied before the ground freezes. This will allow easy harvesting throughout late fall and winter. After you have gathered your materials, add a one-foot thick blanket of mulch to garden beds where there are still root vegetables like carrots, beets, parsnips, and celeriac, as well as stem crops like leeks and kohlrabi. Cover the mulched beds with a length of row cover or an old bed sheet to prevent the lightweight material from blowing away. Weigh the cover down with a few rocks or logs or use garden staples. Insert the staples directly through the fabric and into the soil for a secure cover.
If you live in a snowbelt – like me – use bamboo posts to mark your beds. It can be awfully difficult to find the right spot in mid-winter when there is a foot or more of snow covering the garden and you’re wandering around looking for your carrots! (Trust me on this one.)
Do you mulch any of your crops for winter harvesting?