The closet is full of squash. The freezer is crammed with bags of beans. Potatoes, and jars of pickles and relishes fill the shelves of the root cellar. There’s frozen basil, braided garlic, and a crock of sauerkraut. Hot peppers are strung up and hung to dry in the kitchen window. Although beets wait in the garden for the last minute before a hard frost in case they might grow just a tiny bit more, as do the brussels sprouts, for the most of the garden it’s time to clean up.
|The last of the garden was gleaned as we pulled up the plants.|
We do this every year. This year we’re being ultra careful about it because there was more cutworm damage than we’d care to see (we’ll be doing a post about that). We go around and yank up all the spent plants and throw them onto piles for compost. Then rake up fallen tree leaves and, along with manure, add them in layers to the piles. If autumn gives us plenty of warm days the piles will be turned once or twice. If not, they will be compost by spring anyway.
Fallen leaves are aplenty in this forest environment giving us lots of material for a number of things. Among them are garden pathways. A thick cover of leaves on them serves several functions. Most importantly, the paths stay weed-free all summer. If weeds were allowed to grow there, one of us would have to spend a lot of time weeding, and the same one of us is not into that.
Another benefit is that worms get very busy eating the bottom of the leaf layer. Worm castings are considered a beneficial manure, thus providing nutrients to plants growing alongside the paths. We’ll probably do a post about this sometime, but meanwhile, click here for a source telling about the wonders of worm castings.
Vining plants like cucumbers and squash spill off the beds and set their fruits on the paths. Lying on mulch, they are clean when we go to pick them.
Yet another benefit of leaves in the paths has to do with slugs. Unwanted populations of the shell-less snails have been growing in the past few years due to excess moisture from our (sadly) changed climate. Using straw or hay as mulch seems to encourage them, but the leaf mulch doesn’t appear to have the same effect.
|Murphy, the ever-wary garden dog inspects the perfectly layered pile of compost.|
After filling in the garden paths, more fallen leaves are raked into a piles and reserved for mulching next summer’s potatoes. They are perfect for that, although we do have to check on the mulch as the potatoes grow. Worms eat away at it and it can all but disappear. Adding more saves the potatoes and keeps the worms fed.
Then, the final thing to do with the garden beds is to go over them with a four prong cultivator, fluffing the top layer of soil. We hope this will discourage the afore-mentioned cutworms. The soil of the beds is then left bare for the winter. Any undesirables might be either bleached away by the sun, or frozen out over the winter. This is what we’ve done for a good number of years, and it seems to work for us.
And, while we're cleaning up, there is also some fall planting to do. It’s garlic planting time. Garlic needs cold temperatures to induce bulbing, making October an ideal time to plant. We gather another pile of raked leaves and reserve them to cover the garlic after the soil freezes. Click here for our post about garlic.
Some of our prior blog posts are about our cold frames, into which are now planted winter salad greens and spinach. Click on “Cold Frames” in the righthand column for our posts about those. Cleaning and planting seem to be on the October agenda! -jmm and G.H