Saturday, November 6, 2010

Okay, It Can Snow Now

Yesterday we finished up the last work on putting the garden to bed for the winter. Whew. Even though we had a long, late fall the fates kept getting in the way of the project.

Hubby has spent any spare time he's had for the past week getting all the poultry pens and our little chicken house cleaned out, lined with fresh bedding and ready for winter. He took the composted materials on the floor of each structure out to spread on the raised garden beds and field garden. We'll let it sit there until spring when it will be tilled in.

Each year we wait until after about two good hard frosts to mulch the strawberry plants for the winter. Yesterday morning was the second one (really late for us this year) so we deemed it time to get that job done.

Up here where we usually have lots of sunshine in the winter (although temps can go down to 30 below), not providing a thick covering for the berries means that they experience a surface thawing from the bright daylight sunshine, and then freezing when the sun goes down. This constant freezing and thawing is harmful to the shallow rooted plants so the mulch we provide doesn't give protection from the cold as much as keeping them at a more constant temperature with shade to keep the direct sun off them.

Straw has always been our choice for mulching the strawberries but we've been avoiding purchasing the straw bales we needed this year because it's going for $5.95 a bale in our area. Ouch. We have a good supply of oat straw which is perfect for poultry bedding but it's full of oat seeds which would cause an awful weed problem (in the form of a healthy stand of oats!) in the strawberry patch come spring if we used some of that for mulch.

Since our bad wind storm a couple of weeks ago, we've been cutting downed trees (many of them evergreens), chunking up the wood that's big enough to burn, and hauling branches to a big pile out in our little hay field to burn after we get a couple of inches of snow on the ground.

My uber-smart husband had a flash of genius yesterday morning. He suggested we use some of our copious quantity of evergreen branches to mulch the strawberries this year. Hmmm. Well, they do like a slightly acidic soil. We grabbed Rodale's Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening off the shelf and sure enough, they even suggested using evergreen boughs for mulch!

Okay, back out to the field where we'd JUST FINISHED HAULING THE LAST OF THE BRANCHES for the burn pile. (Geesh, if only we were just a teensy bit smarter.)

We filled the garden cart as full as we could and I think it took us only four or five (or seven or eight) trips to bring enough boughs back up to the strawberry patch.

Here the berries are about one-half covered.

And here the job is done, completed, finished. Now if we don't get another terrific wind storm that could blow away the boughs before a nice snowfall to weigh the boughs down for the winter, we'll be home free.

Good feeling to have the garden completely ready for winter. Now it can start to snow and pretty up our very drab, gray November landscape.


tami said...

Good Idea, Mama Pea. (Ooops, Mama Peas'Hubby) But she was still smart cause she snagged you.

Funny how an increased price tag gets us looking for creative solutions.

Sparkless said...

I would have never thought of evergreen branches to mulch strawberries with. I thought they had some kind of plant killer in them to cut back competition growing around the trees and would kill off the strawberry plants.
I only have a few strawberry plants but am going to use some evergreen to mulch them too and see how that works.
Thanks for the great idea!

Jane said...

I have used the evergreen clippings on the blueberries but never the strawberries. Now I know! Your rows look like they could use some Christmas bulbs and your decorating is done for the holidays :)

Erin said...

I was thinking that same exact thing just as I read it LOL! That's pretty spendy for straw, I thought $5 a bale was bad here, and here you can only get it pretty much at Halloween as "decoration". Too bad trucks, big trailers and fuel cost so much or I'd bring you a load's worth from SE Minnesota where it's plentiful!

The Apple Pie Gal said...

I never knew it was good for blueberries either! Mine could really use some. So you know that instead of 10k lbs of berries you'll have 20 next year then right? You'll be turning into one soon!

mtnchild said...

Never knew about the pine boughs. But the only ones I have here are dead ones, and small at that! That's OK, straw bales here are going for $3 to $4 a bale. Too bad I'm so far away ... or I'd bring you some.

Leigh said...

What a fantastic idea! My strawberries were planted last spring, so I'm just learning their routine. Thanks for passing this on.

Mama Pea said...

Tami - Thanks for commenting! And have you noticed that there have been a LOT of increased price tags lately and we're having to seek more and more creative solutions?? Help.

Sparkless - You're welcome for the idea. I admit I was a little skeptical when hubby suggested it, but after seeing it in print in the organic encyclopedia I was convinced.

Jane - Ha! I had to laugh at your suggestion of stringing Christmas lights on the rows of boughs! There is a motel in our area with a rock garden at the base of their sign. In the winter they twine colored lights among the rocks and they are so beautiful with a covering of snow. The lights glow softly right through the snow. If I did the same thing on the rows of boughs I bet I could get the same effect!

Mama Pea said...

Erin - Boy, if only you could haul a truckload up here! Even straw from a couple of farmers we know near the big city is way pricey this year. Guess that's what we get from not living in "farm country!"

APG - I've always know that blueberries need tons of acidity, too, but didn't know strawberries could take as much as they apparently can.

You've got a point there . . . maybe I should stop taking such good care of the strawberries. I'll be picking 'em day and night next summer!

Yvette - How much does a bale of straw weigh? Nah, never mind. UPS would probably complain about the mess they would make in their trucks! ;o)

Leigh - You're welcome! I just love all we can learn from other bloggers who have done different things than we have. Nothing like practical knowledge!

Jenyfer Matthews said...

Don't you love it when things come together like that?

Mama Pea said...

Jen - Oh, yes, yes, yes,! :o)

Susan said...

What??? Only $5.95 a bale? I'm coming north! Straw goes for $7.00 a bale here. Maybe, because you're closer to Canada (from whence cometh the straw), it's cheaper. I like the looks of that evergreen mulch - what a great way to use what you have.

Mama Pea said...

Susan - Holy Cow, $7 for straw??! What does good hay go for?

Lorie said...

What a great idea hubby had and a very economic one too!

Mama Pea said...

Lorie - If all goes well, I think this is what we'll use from now on! (And, yes, he is the brains of this partnership. I'm the brawn.)

The Sassy Butterfly's Chaotic Musings said...

Great information! I wonder if pine needles would do the job as well... I have masses of those pesky things! I'm hoping to plant my first patch of strawberries this coming season. So any info is especially helpful on that subject.

Stay warm!