Time to put the garden to bed for the winter

Jerry Apps

Once more we’ve put our garden to bed.

Author Jerry Apps prepares the ground for its annual winter cover crop—this year it is winter rye.

The fence keeping out the deer/turkeys/raccoon is lifted and tucked away in the shed for the winter. The late crops: cabbage, carrots, kale, squash and pumpkins are harvested. The sweet corn stalks are cut into little pieces. The tomato racks removed and stacked. The blighted tomato and potato plants are removed to keep ground contamination at a minimum. My son, Steve did all this work last weekend.

As I ate breakfast on Tuesday, I watched a six-point buck eating what garden remnants remained. He dined for nearly half an hour in the garden, and because of the fence, all summer he was not allowed to enter. But the fence is gone.

Later in the morning I hooked the tractor to my brother’s disc and I worked up the soil, burying whatever garden trash that remained, and preparing the ground for its annual winter cover crop—this year it is winter rye.

Then I broadcast the rye seed by hand. Broadcasting means flinging the seeds in such a way that the entire garden plot is covered by seed. I learned how to do this many years ago from my father.

A final discing buried the seed, and the “putting to bed” procedure was completed. Within a few days, the rye seeds will germinate, turning the brown soil to a blanket of green. The deer and turkeys will enjoy this spot of green until next spring. In April, we will disc up the rye and the garden season will begin once more, the winter rye providing what is called “green manure.”

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Every gardener knows the importance of taking care of the soil.

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to