If you’re like the vast majority of gardeners, by the end of Summer, you’re getting tired of the garden for the year. The tomato plants are sad looking or dead, the squash bugs have devoured all of your plants, what the squash bugs didn’t eat the grasshoppers munched down or fungal diseases of every sort have obliterated most of your garden. Maybe you’ve got a few pepper plants that are finally putting on ripe fruit or you’re eyeing the last of the green tomatoes and wondering when they’ll ripen. Perhaps your sweet potato vines are covering everything in their path and you can’t wait to find those buried treasures in the next few weeks. At any rate, most of us are not nearly excited about gardening as we were back in March when we could barely wait to get our hands in the soil.
Despite all of the hardships of summer, the cooling weather is your signal to get back in there to finish the fight so that next year’s gardening can be that much easier and even more successful. Hopefully some of you planted fall crops such as beets, kale, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuces, turnips, and radishes. If so, you’re one of the few brave souls still eating fresh veggies from your garden beds. Even if you don’t have anything harvest-able, get out there and remove all of the dead plants and toss them in the compost pile. Leaving the dead plants in the garden can encourage pests to over-winter in the debris and could contribute to the spread of plant diseases.
Add a healthy layer of compost to each bed and till it into the top few inches of soil. This allows the nutrients in the compost to be fully available to your plants in the spring. It also makes it much easier to plant next spring as the soil is ready to accept seeds or seedlings with little extra effort other than a gentle raking. Many gardeners have delayed planting in the spring because they have to wait for their soil to dry out before working it…tilling in the fall while it is drier can definitely give you the edge next spring.
It’s not too late to plant a few things now. You can definitely plant garlic as this is the the peak time to get those cloves in the ground for a harvest next June. You can also sow the seeds of lettuce and radishes, but be prepared to cover them in a few weeks when that first threat of frost looms.
Now is a good time to reflect on this past gardening season. Write a few notes about what worked and what didn’t do so well in your gardens this year. Make a list of “Must Grows” for next year as those seed catalogs will be coming in the mail in just a couple of months. Make a sketch of your garden or use one of the many garden planning websites or programs to help you get organized and be able to hit the soil running once winter starts to lose her icy grip on us next year!