Putting the Garden to Bed

Oct 13, 2016
Covered Bed
Celeste Longacre


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Ah, fall! The air turns crisp, the days get remarkably short and the leaves fall off of the trees. With the pantry, root cellar and freezer full to bursting with preserved harvest, it’s time to put the garden to bed.

It’s important to clean up all plant debris and get the leaves out of the garden in the fall. This gives insects no place to hide over the winter.

Here in the East, we also need to lime our beds to keep the soil sweet. Liming can be done in the spring, but it is preferable to do it in the fall. A dusting is really all that is needed. Once the rain comes to wash the lime into the soil, it somewhat disappears so I always draw up my map for next year and put checks in the beds that I have limed.

The kale, Swiss chard and brussel sprouts live through quite a few frosts so they remain standing (usually until spring). The parsnips will definitely be left in the garden through the winter. Freezing actually sweetens them up and it is really nice to have a good-sized crop to eat in the spring.

I also have a row of spinach and wintering-over lettuce (rouge d’hiver) that I have covered with a cloth that lets in the Sun and rain but helps to keep them warm. Once it gets really cold, I will switch their covering to a clear plastic. I’m hoping to have this lettuce and spinach until Thanksgiving or Christmas. What I mean by “wintering-over” is that these crops will actually reappear in the spring.  Not all of the plants come back, but a significant number do. These crops were planted in mid-August—I put them in the beds where the onions had just been harvested. Rouge d’hiver (French for “red of the winter”) is a favorite of mine for this reappearing act.

We had a surprise few inches of snow on the covered bed, so I decided to quickly put it under the plastic. The weather people started predicting first 8 inches, then 10, then 12 or more…. We ended up with 14 inches of heavy, wet, snow. So, it was a good thing that I put the plastic down.



Today, I brushed the snow off of the plastic and picked some beautiful lettuce!

Now it’s time to come inside, put some wood on the fire and begin to cook the treasure trove of veggies for which I worked so hard all summer long. I buy all of my meat from local farmers (highly recommended) so my freezers also contain chickens, turkeys, beef and pork. These animals were raised humanely—enjoying sunshine, fresh air, uncrowded conditions and appropriate food. The same cannot be said for most supermarket meats.

This is also the time to begin planning for next year’s garden. If you’ve never had a garden, start small. What are your favorite two vegetables? Tomatoes and cucumbers? Peppers and squash? I highly recommend beginning with just one or two beds. Or, if you live in an apartment with a patio, think about a couple of potted plants.

I will be posting information on different varieties of vegetables all winter long as well as sharing photos of my beautiful flowers. I think that gorgeous pictures can be quite uplifting when the outside is drab or just sparkling white. So let’s begin here …



About This Blog

Celeste Longacre has been growing virtually all of her family’s vegetables for the entire year for over 30 years. She cans, she freezes, she dries, she ferments & she root cellars. She also has chickens. Celeste has also enjoyed a longtime relationship with The Old Farmer’s Almanac as their astrologer and gardens by the Moon. Her new book, “Celeste’s Garden Delights,” is now available! Celeste Longacre does a lot of teaching out of her home and garden in the summer. Visit her web site at www.celestelongacre.com for details.

Reader Comments

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Winter garden

I have recently put my garden to bed for the winter but I read in your article that I shouldn't have mulched up my maple leaves and spread them over the surface. What problems will I have next growing season and is there anything short of removing them, that I should do?

Jim Marin

Hi Jim,

Hi Jim,

I wouldn’t worry too much about having put mulched leaves on the garden. It will be a problem only if you had a bad bug problem somewhere. They can hide under the leaves and winter-over.

instead of having a compost

instead of having a compost pile or box, I just dig a hole and place all my leftovers in it and then cover it back up. My question is a two part, 1st are watermelon rines good for compost? 2nd can you add meats to your compost? hope to hear from you soon.


Hi Gayle,

Hi Gayle,

Sorry for the delay in answering. We have a new system and….

Watermelon rinds are perfectly fine for the compost, but I wouldn’t add meats.


Would liming be good for clay soil?


Hello Damawa,
Liming changes the pH of the soil, turning it from an acidic base to a more alkaline one. Clay soils need organic material. Compost is ideal, or old manure, or peat moss. Start composting your kitchen scraps for the garden or visit a farm that could sell you some old manure. You can buy it at the box stores, too, but it is more expensive.


I am a first year gardener. It was an interesting year. Why is it important to lime? What does it do? Can I garden again in the same place next year? Is it a harmful substance to inhale (do I wear a mask?)
Thanks for the info!


Hello Adfreed,
Liming is important to do in the East. It is done primarily to change the pH of the soil. Our soils in the East have always been a bit acidic, but now, with acid rain, it is even more important to lime. If the soil is too acid, the plants have a difficult time absorbing all the nutrients that they need. Old-timers would have said that we are "sweetening" the soil. You can definitely garden in the same place next year as you did this year, but I would move the crops around. Plants have "families" and it's important to rotate them. For example, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers are all in the same family. Where you planted these particular crops you should plant something else like carrots or beets or anything else. I don't usually wear a mask when I lime, but if you are particularly sensitive, you might want to wear one.


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