You often ask us how to clean the vegetable garden in autumn.

Many gardeners (including myself in the past) remove all plant waste from the growing beds… And work the soil in preparation for spring crops.

The place is clear! To the great satisfaction of the gardener…

But not from the ground!

I am not saying here that you absolutely should not work the land.

If the soil is tamped or compacted, do so in a way that respects life, with a Grelinette or a Vole, may prove useful.

Likewise, the large clods of a clayey soil will be burst by frost. Which is not a bad thing in itself.

But that doesn't mean you have to leave the ground bare during the winter...


Leaving the ground bare will have negative consequences:

How to clean the vegetable garden in autumn: avoid leaving the soil bare!
In autumn and winter, avoid leaving the earth bare!
  • without protection, the mineral elements present in the soil will be leached, and will therefore be lacking in your future spring crops
  • the animals and micro-organisms present in the soil will no longer be protected from the cold and bad weather. They will also lack food (plants, developing or decomposing)
  • weeds resulting from bare soil (oxalis, creeping cinquefoil, bindweed, rumex, etc.) will be able to develop at will. Certainly, they will appear precisely to remedy the problems of soil left bare... But they are very invasive plants which are difficult to get rid of afterwards. So you might as well avoid the cause…
  • the earth will not be nourished...

In short, all this goes against what a permaculture vegetable garden…


Leave some crops in place

Some crops are winter-hardy, at least in regions with not too harsh winters.

Thus, leeks, carrots, cabbage, parsnips, lamb's lettuce, spinach, chard, winter lettuce and chicory, possibly protected by a winter veil, can simply remain in place. You will harvest them as and when you need them... These crops will in fact constitute ground cover.

Don't hesitate to let some summer salads, basil or flowers bloom... This will be useful in particular to provide a little food for pollinating insects that are still active.

But then, what do we do to clean up the vegetable garden in the fall?

Leave crop residue in place

Of course, crop residues can be evacuated into compost (it also needs to be fed…).

But the best (and ultimately the simplest), in order to protect the soil, is to leave these crop residues on site.

Aside from the situations mentioned in the previous point, this is not a question of letting the plants continue to grow (which most will not do, having reached the end of their cycle).

Clean up the vegetable garden in autumn: leave crop residues in place
Once the harvests have been made, these squash plants will simply be cut and the vegetation will be left as a cover... which will be supplemented by other plant materials...

Rather, it is a question of allowing them to cover the ground and decompose there.

However, we know that roots play a major role in the life of the soil.

And not only by their effects on its structure…

They will also serve as food for micro-organisms... which will decompose them and transform them into nutrients for future crops.

Also, so that these roots can contribute usefully to the life of the earth, and to its fertility, rather than tearing up the plants, cut the stems at the base.

And place the vegetation on the ground. You can possibly cut the plants into small sections…

Some will object to me that there is a risk of spreading cryptogamic diseases, such as downy mildew or powdery mildew... This is a preconceived idea... In reality, the spores of the fungi responsible for these diseases will be destroyed by frost... and by the decomposition processes… which we will now promote…

Complete the ground cover

Crop residues will not be enough to maintain real coverage throughout the winter.

We will therefore complete this coverage…

This patch of vegetable garden has already been covered with crop residues (there was an early zucchini plant here) and various materials (cardboard, comfrey leaves and crushed material). Dead leaves will complete this blanket…

Like compost, for a healthy and efficient decomposition process, the addition of organic materials to the surface must be balanced.

We are talking here about a balance between green materials (nitrogenous materials, decomposing quickly) and brown materials (carbonaceous, cellulosic materials, slower to decompose, but with more lasting effects on soil life).

You can therefore usefully add, on top of the crop waste, nitrogenous materials: kitchen residues, nettle leaves, the last cutting of comfrey, the last mowings…

Of manure, BRF or hay, more balanced materials, will also be welcome.

Then cover everything with dead leaves or straw (carbon materials).

Well… make do with the materials at your disposal.

Crop residues covered with BRF or hay will already be very good…

But keep in mind that the more diversity you incorporate into your cover, the better it will be for the fertility of your garden soil.

Sow green manure

If the soil in your garden is clayey, particularly heavy, packed or compacted, ground cover such as above may be a problem.

In fact, the earth then risks simply remaining in this state. Or even to settle down a little more…

It will then be preferable to sow, after a slight loosening with Grelinette or Campagnole, a green manure.

This will also provide ground cover, by protecting life there and making it more fertile…

And how do you go about it yourself? Do you usually clean up the vegetable garden in the fall?

Do you have friends who might be interested in this discovery? Thanks for sharing !

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Pourquoi et comment utiliser le fumier de cheval au potager en permaculture ?

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