How Do I Winterize & Re-amend My No-till Living Soil Containers & Beds
Those questions need to be considered when choosing how to manage your no-till living soil containers or beds over the winter. For Southerner's or people in warmer climates, minimal prep is needed for the winter due to lack of cold between seasons. What seems like a cold winter to you, is really laughable when compared to a lot of other climates. My growing season is June 1 through September 15th at best. So be thankful for your mild winters.
With the warmer winters in the southern parts of the US you can do as little as add a thick layer of mulch on the soil and be done. Depending on your planting date it may be a good idea to apply your soil amendments in the fall to allow them enough time to re-minerilize the soil for an early spring planting. That being said, it's possible to apply your amendments 1 month before you plant and still have great results. In a pinch I have spread amendments when I planted in spring due to time constraints, and still had fine results. You just need to be careful not to burn your plants from the introduction of hot soil amendments, but done right you can avoid catastrophe.
1 month seems to be a good time frame for a minimum amount between spreading amendments and planting. Other factors that need to be considered are rain and snow. If you add your amendments in October and then it rains like hell in march, April, and may, and you plant in June, then you kind of shot yourself in the foot. In this situation you would want to time your amendments just a month or so before you plant so that all of the nutrients aren't leached. In dryer climates you may need more time for the nutrients to be solubilized into the soil due to lack of rain or snow.
If you do use a thick layer of mulch on your containers you need to decide when you are going to plant, and if you need to help speed up the warming of your soil temperature. A thick layer of mulch will trap in the cold soil temps, and slow the warming of your soil. If you remove the mulch layer, or brush it to the side when temps begin to rise, you can help to accelerate the warming of the soil which can accelerate the best planting date for your crop. Once you have planted, and temps are constantly high, you can put your mulch layer back on and continue your season.
In some long outdoor seasons, reapplication of amendments throughout the season is a best practice. At a minimum in a long Southern outdoor season I would reapply once, and possibly twice. If planted in April, in all reality your amendments will be mostly be used up by June. In this situation your plants will benefit from an additional application of amendments. If you are trying to get multiple harvests of auto's in the same season then 2 or more applications of amendments may be required to reintroduce the nutrients pulled out of the soil by the plants.
When you get further north maintaining your soil brings other issues that need to be addressed. I personally have no-till soil beds at 7500', and I don't really do much to them over the winter. The older I get the the more selfish I get with my time, and I try to spend as little time as possible on gardening work that isn't necessary. I will say that most gardeners in higher altitude tend to mulch heavy, and some even stacks straw bales around their beds to insult late them from the elements. I personally rock the mulch I used during the summer, and then in the spring I apply my amendments and plant a month or so later. My beds have automatic drip line irrigation installed, and because of the altitude I don't even have to spray for pests. I apply a couple applications of ferments throughout the season, and that's it. It really is the laziest, most product gardening I have ever done.
If you are in a northern climate, insulating the soil with straw bales can help your soil to not freeze which in tune will help your soil warm up faster. Because I go the lazy route, in June my soil is still extremely cold. The worms move like they are in slow motion because of how cold it is. I do move my mulch layer ( and sometimes snow)over and expose the soil surface to the sun starting around mid may. This helps direct some of that radiant heat to warm up the dark rich soil.
If you are working in hoop houses then the rain and snow isn't really factored in to your re-amending and winterizing routine. The temps in your hoop houses will obviously be warmer as you will be in a micro-climate. Mulching and minor insulation of containers isn't a bad idea as it will make it easier to warm up the containers in early spring.
The one thing I have yet to cover is keeping your soil moist. This is less of an issue with beds, but can still happen. Up in the Rockies where it's dry as hell, if we don't get a lot of snow then our soil can get brutally dried out. Especially in containers that aren't heavily mulched, and or insulated. Checking your soil over the winter months to monitor the moisture level is always a good idea. There's really no need to do regular waterings, but adding some water once or twice if necessary will go a long way next season.
That being said, I have let soil go completely dry for 9 months indoors, and fully revived it and it produces just like it never happened. With the right techniques, and use of products, no-till living soil can be a very forgiving thing. As usual, there is no one right answer for every situation. Some level of trial and error is needed for your to find the best practices for your soil, and your farm. The good thing is our no-till living soil will be forgiving as you work on your standard operating procedures. Once dialed in, you should be able to get many years of solid production, thus reducing labor and input costs dramatically, all while pumping out those high terpene organic buds.