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5 steps to put your vegetable garden to bed for winter

I spent some time recently pulling the tomato plants that weren't producing any more. There still are four plants giving it their all, so I left them in the ground and pruned them so that all their energy will go to the branches that still are producing.

One of my Roma tomato plants still has potential. It's sad-looking, but it's not giving up -- so neither will I.

Eventually, though, I will have to put the entire garden to bed for the winter.

There are lots of things you can do to put your garden to bed for the winter, and avid gardeners will take lots of time and many steps to accomplish that. However, if you have a small kitchen garden and not a lot of time, you might want an easier solution.

Still, you don't want to just leave everything dying in the garden all winter long -- it will make next year's gardening that much more difficult.

Here are five basic steps you can take to put your vegetable garden to bed for the winter:

1. Clean out all the annuals.

Any plant that isn't going to come back next year needs to be pulled out by the roots and disposed of. Once they have stopped producing altogether, get them out of there.

2. Cut back perennials.

Many herbs (and some vegetables) will come back year after year. Cut them to about 2 inches above soil level once they've completely gone to seed and are no longer producing usable leaves.

3. Compost all disease-free materials.

Use all of the plant materials from this year's garden to help nourish next year's garden. Add raked leaves to the compost pile too.

4. Turn your soil.

Turning the soil will help eliminate some pest problems next spring. Any grubs or eggs from undesirable insects will be broken up, brought to the surface and feed the birds this fall.

5. Plant a cover crop.

Planting a cover crop is easy. Oats and buckwheat or winter rye get scattered over the garden, covered with a light layer of soil and watered if needed.

The cover crop will die back during the first hard frost and stay on your garden to protect it from weeds until you turn it under in the spring.

Check out this video about how to plant a cover crop for more specific information: www.mnn.com/food/organic- farming/blogs/preparing-your-garden-bed-for-winter.

Taking a few hours to do this now will give you better soil next spring and help keep undesirable bugs and weeds from popping up in next year's garden.

* Robin Shreeves blogs about finding eco-friendly food options at www.mnn.com/featured-blogs/ sustainablefood

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