Manor Moments

Trailside Organic Farm – November 2022 Update

November 2022

Written by Ian Frederick, Farm Manager and Katie Landis, Assistant Farm Manager

To make the most out of your garden, consider overwintering crops for an early spring harvest. Many root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips and rutabagas get sweeter after they’ve been exposed to temperatures below freezing. The same is true for hardy leafy greens such as cabbage, kale and spinach.

At the Trailside Organic Farm, we are planning to grow spinach in our hoop house structure into the winter. Spinach is an excellent wintertime crop, as it continues to grow while other crops take a rest. In fact, Jean-Martin Fortier, author of The Market Gardener, refers to baby leaf spinach as, “…the queen of winter crops.”

Alternatively, you may have decided that cooler months are a good time for a vacation from gardening. If so, we suggest practicing the following before leaving:
·Compost (if needed)
·Cover cropping

Top-dressing and/or tilling in compost during the off-season provides physical, chemical and biological soil health benefits. Compost adds organic matter to soil. Organic matter increases rainwater infiltration and retention, and it also provides a place for microbes to live. The process of decomposition, performed by micro-organisms and macro-organisms, breaks compostables down and releases nutrients into the soil that are more accessible to plants. This is the ‘food’ that plants need to grow, and that stimulates growth.

On the subject of cover cropping, benefits integral to farm operations can also translate to raised beds. Most of all, keeping a rooted, growing cover in your soil prevents the soil health degradation that can occur when soil is left fallow. Properly chosen and managed cover crops may also supply nutrients and organic matter to your soil. For example, cover crops in the legume family may introduce nitrogen into soils that are in need of a nutrient boost. Others, such as grains and grasses, may be used to increase soil organic matter, and these are sometimes called green manures. Regardless of your cover crop choice, it is best to mow and till in cover crops before they go to seed. This measure will prevent nuisance re-seedings in the future. You could consider growing one of these winter-hardy cover crops in your raised bed this winter:
·Hairy Vetch
·Winter Rye
·Winter Wheat
·Crimson Clover

You may also consider looking into the process of using silage tarps atop your raised bed this fall to diminish weed pressure next spring. Ideally, tilling (or otherwise disturbing the soil) in your raised bed will stir up the weed seed bed and stimulate germination. Placing a black tarp tight against the soil surface will provide ideal conditions for weed seeds to germinate, but the complete lack of sunlight will cause weeds to perish.

For more information on the concepts discussed in this article, we suggest the following read: The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming. Fortier, Jean-Martin. New Society Publishers, 2014.