Protect your Topsoil Through the Winter

Gardener’s Notebook

Take steps to protect and nourish your soil during winter, and reap the benefits in tasty winter crops. (Photos courtesy of Joshua Burman Thayer)


Pelting rains, driving winds, and what looks like a creek flowing through your backyard. These winter storms make it hard to remember that just a few months ago, Northern California was up in flames and blackened by smoke. The challenge now is to protect your soil and give it a bit of support through these cold, wet months of winter.  

Putting a 3- to 4-inch layer of biomass on top of your bare garden soil achieves many benefits: It prevents compaction from falling raindrops, keeps surface floods from washing away valuable topsoil, insulates fragile plants against cold snaps, reduces weeds, and adds nutrients to the soil as the biomass breaks down.

Good sources of biomass to cover your veggie bed soils include wood chips, cocoa hulls, and rice hulls. You can even use a hay bale broken apart and spread around.

It is best to avoid using clippings from rose, camellia, eucalyptus, sycamore, redwood, and leaves of sick plants, so put these in your green recycling barrel for pick-up. 

Even better for your soil is seeding it with winter cover crops. These “green mulches” will protect just as mentioned above, while also growing into living plants that will break down and feed you and the soil!

This Gardeners Notebook is one of Joshua Burman Thayer’s monthly columns for this newsletter, East Bay Appetizer. He also contributes longer articles for Edible East Bay’s print magazine, all archived at Look for Joshua’s food forest article in the Spring 2018 issue of Edible East Bay, and check out his design site:

Photo by Carol Topalian

(Teaser photo by Carole Topalian)