All of your hard work and dedication is paying off as your summer garden is brimming with a bountiful harvest and you are busy canning, freezing and storing fruits and veggies for use during the colder months.
With a bit of preparation this Fall, you can get on the right path for a successful growing season next year.
First, clean out any spent annual crops, removing the plant roots and all. Move any plants that are disease and insect free in your compost pile. You can add them back to your garden next year to help provide nutrients for your new crops. If not properly composted, insects and diseases that are present on the current crops may survive in your compost pile, causing damage next year. Cut back perennials that are no longer producing leaves and have gone to seed, to about 2” above the soil. Place insect and disease free plant tops in the compost pile.
Next, turn the soil in the garden. This will help reduce the population of insect pests by disrupting their life cycles and exposing any pest eggs and grubs to hungry birds. Now is the perfect time to collect a soil sample for submission to the lab for testing. If lime is needed, applying in the Fall will provide the time for lime to react with the soil and achieve the desired results by Spring.
Select and plant a cover crop. Cover crops hold the soil preventing erosion, provide organic matter when turned into the soil in the spring, and help to hold nutrients that can be released to the next year’s crop. The most commonly used cover crop seeds are Buckwheat and Red Clover. Buckwheat breaks down quickly into the soil and Red Clover, a legume, fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere and enriches the soil.
When frost is in the forecast, pick the tender crops: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and cucumbers. Green tomatoes can continue to ripen once picked, so examine each tomato for damage or signs of rot. Damaged tomatoes are not worth the effort to ripen as they will continue to decline once removed from the vine. Remove dirt from the surface with cool clean water and pat dry. Place tomatoes in a paper bag, or a box if there are many of them. Store in a dry location out of the direct sun. Depending on the stage of maturity, it can take days or weeks for the tomatoes to ripen. Adding an almost ripe banana can help speed the process.
Hardier crops can be left in the garden and covered to protect them from frost. Frequently the first frost is followed by a warm spell and your hardy crops can continue to grow and produce for a few more weeks. Hoops and plastic covering (available at Blue Seal) can extend the growing season by protecting these crops now and giving you a head start in the Spring!
Once your plants and soil are ready for winter, make sure to prepare your tools for storage. Hoes and shovels should be cleaned, wire brushed to remove any rust and rubbed with vegetable oil prior to storage. The small engines on your tiller and trimmer should be run out of fuel and a fuel stabilizer should be added to prevent moisture from condensing in the carburetor and causing damage.
Spend some time in the garden this Fall, your Spring garden will thank you!