Winter Gardening With The Urban Naturalist
Tips for fertilizing and preparing beds for spring by Laura Garey and Tyler F. Thigpen.
Depending on where you live, this may be the time of year when you start becoming ashamed of your garden and hope no one sees it. If you’re far South in a warmer climate, there are many things you could be growing through the winter. And if you’re farther North, it’s time to prepare for warmer weather and the growing season ahead.
If you’re looking for a way to cover a summer garden or an alternative for grass in a lawn, clover may be your answer. Clover is easy to grow, requires little mowing in the winter and generally needs less water than grass. Clover is especially wonderful for Southern lawns and gardens, because it acts as a natural fertilizer by drawing nitrogen from the air and fixing it in the soil. “Clover is a natural way to fertilize green spaces, a way of working with ecology instead of against it,” says Marcus Descant, owner of The Urban Naturalist in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Before the 1950s, most lawn grass mixtures contained clover seeds because of the clover’s ability to fix nitrogen into the soil. Incorporating clover in your lawn or garden will reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers that can be harmful to the environment. In addition, reducing the use of synthetic fertilizers will save you time and money. Descant, whose micro-farm is located near downtown, says that for a 5,000-square-foot yard (about average), you would need only 7 pounds of clover seed compared to 30 pounds of lawn fertilizer.
If you’re considering incorporating clover into your lawn, this is the time to buy the seeds. Winter is the best time to plant clover in the South, and Descant will ship clover seeds upon request. The Urban Naturalist sells crimson clover that has a beautiful red bloom in early spring, and the seed is easy to apply with a spreader.
This is also a good time of year to plant blueberries, onions, leeks and mustard greens, and prepare your spring plant beds. “Using layering, one can create a bed from waste around them,” Descant explains. “Bags of leaves work great as a first layer to serve as a biodegradable weed barrier. Next, add nitrogen with compost or manure [his favorite is rabbit]. On top of manure, more leaves can be used, then topped with pine straw. This seals the envelope, allowing moisture in, but protecting soil nutrients from the sunlight.”
Descant also sells and ships worm castings, which can increase the yield of your garden. “It’s a fact that one of the most incredible growing mediums on the planet is worm castings,” he says. “For hundreds of years, man has used this organic gold to increase yield with the help of these creatures.”
If you’re in the Lafayette area, stop by The Urban Naturalist at 216 Madison St. Monday through Friday from 3-6 p.m. and weekends from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Right now, locally baled pine straw, rabbit manure, avocado trees, blueberry bushes, kale and romaine lettuce plants are available. Plants, clover seeds, bedding material, manure and worm castings can be ordered by calling 337-258-0878 or e-mailing [email protected]
Laura Garey and Tyler F. Thigpen are part of Acadiana Food Circle and love all things fresh and local. To learn more about Acadiana Food Circle and people like The Urban Naturalist, visit www.acadianafoodcircle.org.