By Joanna Pappo, assistant gardener with Village Vancouver

We are able to grow crops all year round in Vancouver, and now is the time to start gearing up your garden for the colder months. Below, we go over planting guides and tips for protecting crops; pollinators and other beneficial insects; how Village Vancouver prepares its collaborative gardens for fall and winter; as well as other techniques for setting your garden up for successful fall and winter seasons.

Preparing & Planting

To prepare beds or containers for the season, remove any annual crops that are reaching the end of their lives and add them to your compost (unless they are diseased). If your plants are going to seed, you can save the seeds to replant next spring before removing them from the soil. Once you’ve done this you’ll be ready to protect any bare soil, or even plant a few more crops for fall/winter harvest or overwintering. Overwintering crops are crops that are planted in the summer or fall; undergo a period of rest during the colder months; and are ready to harvest the following spring. Some you may have already planted include sprouting broccoli, overwintering cabbage, onions and cauliflower. You can plant both broad beans and garlic up until the end of October, and they’ll be ready to harvest throughout the next summer. Overwintering crops do not require protection from the elements.

Depending on the maturity and specific needs of your fall and winter crops, you may need to take special measures to ensure they will not be damaged by more precipitation and colder temperatures. Some crops you may have already planted in July for fall and winter harvests – such as arugula, radish, beets, parsley, pac choi, turnips, swiss chard, scallions and mustards – need extra protection from the elements. Make sure to cover them at the beginning of October. You can still sow radishes and turnips under covers until mid-October.

Crop and Pollinator Protection

A common way to protect your crops is to install a cloche greenhouse over garden beds. Putting the clear plastic cover over the cloche structure provides your plants with frost, insect and animal protection. It’s also versatile, as the cloche can be used to create shade for crops during the summer. Another option for winter crop protection is to use row covers. Depending on the needs of your crops, you can get heavy or lighter row covers that act as blankets to trap heat in the surrounding air and soil. Row covers can also be used with a layer of mulch, black plastic or landscaping fabric to further protect plants from cold damage and soil erosion. Using fallen leaves as mulch is also a great way to protect your crops and soil in the colder months. Put down a thick layer of leaves (about 2-3 inches deep) to keep soil and roots insulated.

For more information about protecting specific crops, click here to see West Coast Seeds’ full PDF guide to fall and winter planting.

Besides protecting soil and plants, leaf mulch also provides habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects, as do pithy stemmed perennials (and annual sunflowers), bark mulch and piles of branches. Leaving part of the garden a bit “unkempt” is another excellent way to provide winter homes for our pollinator friends.

Cover Cropping

When preparing your garden for the fall and winter, plan out which areas you want to continue to use. Raised beds are particularly well suited for planting in the colder months, as they provide extra drainage, warm up faster and are easy to modify with cloche greenhouses or row covers. If there are areas of your garden that will be empty over the winter, consider leaf mulching or planting cover crops for more fertile soil. In the first week of October, you can plant white clover, winter field peas, white mustard and winter wheat densely as cover crops. Fall rye can be planted all throughout the month, as can fava beans up until mid-November. These crops can benefit soil health by improving soil structure, fixing nitrogen, adding organic matter and feeding soil biology. When preparing your beds for spring again, simply turn the cover crops under the soil and the soil will be ready for another season.

Happy gardening!