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What should I be doing to prepare my vegetable fields for winter?


There always seems to be a “race to the finish line” when it comes to preparing your farm for winter. If you’re involved in fall production, it can be even more difficult to fit it all in before the snow flies. However, there are a few tasks that are very important for the success of your next season.

First, make sure to walk your property and look for misplaced or forgotten tools. That screwdriver you used to fix the irrigation line will be much easier to see now in the fall grass. Later, after it’s been buried in snow, it can be ruined by the elements, or worse, it could cause much larger problems to your tractor tires. Carefully collecting, cleaning, organizing, and storing your tools now — while they’re still on your mind — will make the spring rush more streamlined.

Make certain to store sensitive items (like an electronic scale or irrigation timer) where they will be protected from extreme temperatures, changes in humidity, and dust. Also, consider what items (floating row cover, packaging, etc.) need to be protected from rodents through the winter and find appropriate containers now before there is damage.

Next, thoroughly drain and store irrigation supplies. Depending on your irrigation system, you may do this by “blowing out” the lines. You might also consider removing fixtures, valves, and hose bibs to replace them with solid end caps to prevent damage from freezing and discourage critters from setting up shop for the winter in your irrigation lines.

Finally, and most importantly, clear and compost potentially hazardous litter from your field and, if possible, secure your soil and fertility with a winter cover crop. It might seem counterintuitive to remove vegetable matter from the field and then plant a cover crop. However, those squash vines on the field might be offering shelter to cucumber beetles that will return with a vengeance for next year’s crop. Many pests and diseases can be harbored through the winter in crop residue. Remove it and manage the compost well to make sure your problems have been disposed of.

After all that residue has been removed, the soil has less protection from winter winds, snow melt, and spring rains. You can help protect your soil from erosion, hold on to its nutrition, and add organic matter to your soil by planting a winter cover crop of your choice. Depending on your bed layout and harvest patterns, you may be harvesting some crops beyond the planting window. Consider managing your rotation so that those areas get a rest at a different time of year.

Posted: Nov 2016
Answer By: Lauren Langworthy