It has been a busy season planting, weeding and harvesting but our work is not done yet. With the cooler weather, it is much easier to enjoy our time in the garden and the work we do now will prepare us for a good start in the spring. These are some tips that The Table uses to wind down this season so you can hit the ground running in 2021!
1. Take time to reflect on the season
Summer can be busy and taking notes can easily fall off the priority list. Take time to reflect on the successes and challenges you were met with.
Maybe having a heavy cucumber beetle infestation means that you should take a break from growing squash and cucumbers or making sure you start them under a row cover in the spring. Making sure we do proper crop rotation could be also noted here.
Did you grow enough carrots, tomatoes, greens, etc this year? What were your favourite varieties and what were you not impressed with?
All this information will help with being focused and to not impulse buy seeds when we are most excited about them in the spring.
Anything else worth noting? Now is the time.
2. Organize your containers, soil and tools
Now is a perfect time to get yourself organized for the spring so you don’t have to shuffle through frozen, brittle trays and bring them inside to wash.
If you are planning to start plants indoors in the spring, clean and organize your containers and store them in an accessible space. Using a light bleach solution will help with any fungal problems that might infect your fragile seedlings. If there is soil you would like to use in the spring, put it in a sealed container with your trays. It will most likely be frozen so having it in a smaller container will help it thaw faster.
What about your tools, what shape are they in? It’s a great time to sharpen the spades and oil handles before their winter slumber. Sharpening can wait till spring but making sure they are clean will make them last longer.
Don’t forget to take off your hoses, drain and tucked away from the elements.
3. Seed saving
If you have open-pollinated plants such as lettuce, tomatoes, beans, dill and annual flowers that you let go to seed, it’s a perfect time to harvest them.
Collect seeds when they are dry and label your envelopes with a name and date. It’s important to use containers that can breathe so any moisture left in the seeds can evaporate.
If you have never tried seed saving, maybe this winter is a great time to read about it and make a plan for the next season. Start with easy crops that don’t readily cross-pollinate.
4. Weeds, compost and winter crops
If you have weeds in your garden they are probably well into their seeding stage. Remove as many weeds as possible to prevent them from spreading. If you are pulling plants out make sure to shake the soil well. The top layer of soil contains precious organic matter so we definitely don’t want to take it out of our gardens.
It is a great time to make a compost pile with lots of material available. If you are able, cut the debris into smaller chunks so it breaks down faster. You could build a hot compost pile that breaks down quickly and which you might be able to use this.
Are there any crops in your garden that you can protect and harvest into the early winter? Kale, chard, arugula, beets, carrots and spinach can be left in the garden with some protection and enjoyed in the months ahead. Investigate some winter extension methods such as row cover and hoop tunnels. If you have a good crop of spinach, harvest what you can and leave the established roots in the ground. Mulch with straw for the winter and you might have a good crop to harvest in the early spring.
There are so many possibilities in the garden!
5. Preparing your soil
Now that you cleaned up your weeds and debris it is a perfect time to amend your soil. Work in compost or manure to your garden beds to give the biology in your soil something to work on. Make sure to cover your beds with a good layer of mulch for the winter. This will ensure that your top layer doesn’t wash or blow away. Wind erosion can blow away that precious top layer of organic soil if we get a dry and windy fall and spring.
Covering your soil will also mean that the early germinating spring weeds will not have a head start and you might actually get ahead of them!
Fall is also a good time to collect leaves from healthy trees. Use those in your compost or mulch your beds with them. Make sure they are weighed down with straw so they don’t blow away. Leaf mould is an amazing resource that can be used in your perennial beds too.
Now that you have done all that, don’t worry about cutting back your perennial beds. Make sure they are weeded and mulched. Cut back only messy looking plants and leave the rest of the seed heads for the birds, insects like mason bees and seasonal interest. Cutting back in the spring gets us outside early on when we are most excited to get growing!
Take a break and look forward to planning the garden for next year.