Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Final Thoughts About Your Summer Garden

Fall has officially arrived in the Northern Hemisphere. Most people have dismissed the summer garden and turn their thoughts to fall festivals, county fairs, Halloween and maybe planting a fall garden. 

I would like to give you some additional points to consider about your summer garden before you put those thoughts away until spring.

  • If the first frost has not arrived yet, consider leaving the summer plants in the ground for a little longer. You may get some additional leaves and flowers before the frost comes. And with those flowers come the fruit of the plant. Depending on how much time you have before frost (in reality, this late in the year this idea only works for those who live in more moderate climates but it is something everyone can consider next year before you pull your garden out) you may get more from your garden.  Let me give you an example, here is one of my green bean plants as it stands today in my garden. 

  • One of the things I don't like about green beans is how frequently they shed their leaves.  I am constantly cleaning them up.  But I digress. This plant looks dead, doesn't it?  It isn't!  As long as the stems of the plant stay green, it will grow additional leaves. Here is a close up of the same plant.
  • See the new green leaves? This new growth will flower and produce additional green beans. Beans are one of the plants that will keep growing until frost. But there are others: peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, melons, pumpkins and more. The key to harvesting late in the year is to get the fruit to a point where it can continue to ripen in the house or root cellar if frost makes that necessary. I routinely bring in green tomatoes and green pumpkins each fall to finish ripening in the house. I usually can the last of the tomatoes in November.
  • Try saving your own seeds. It it is too late for you to save the seeds this year, make it a goal for next year. When browsing the catalogs in the spring, consider heirloom varieties. They will grow true to the parent plant. Let me also add here that you can save seeds from almost all garden plants, even (contrary to popular opinion) hybrids. The problems arises when you expect the seeds from a hybrid to act exactly like the parent plant. They probably will not. However, I know someone who routinely saves seeds from the hybrid varieties she grows. Sometimes the plant doesn't produce well, but sometimes she is extremely pleased with the results. The key to saving seeds is to let the fruit fully ripen on the vine. Some seeds, like beans, can stay on the plant until they dry. However, this is a double edged sword because if the bean stays on the plant, the plant won't make more and thinking it's job done (because it set seed), will die. You can pick them when fully mature and dry in the house as well.
  • After the first frost of the year, be sure to clean the garden by removing all leaves, dead plants and other debris. To help keep the bugs down next summer, it is critical that you perform these tasks now, in the fall. While generally, items you clean up can go into the compost pile, it is best not the add the remains of diseased plants. Also, if your plants were overrun with bugs this year, put the debris into the trash and not the compost pile. Unless your compost pile will heat up to 135 degrees over the winter, your compost has the possibility of being a nice home for those bug eggs to overwinter and you will see the bugs in great numbers next summer.
  • Now is a great time to add compost or manure to the soil for next year. Yes, you can add this in the spring as well. But, for best results next year, add it now and in the spring.
  • After a hard freeze, turn the garden soil over if you can. This is easier to do if you have a late warm spell where you can dig in the soil. It will work in the spring too if you have a warm spell and then another hard freeze. What you are doing by turning over the garden is killing the bugs that overwinter deep into the soil. Bring them up to the top of the soil and they will die with the next hard freeze. This doesn't require tons of effort. You can do a very large garden in 45 minutes to one hour. I do mine in sections and it never takes longer than 15 minutes at a time. I combine this task with exercising my dog in the yard. You will be pleased with the results of this task next summer when you find few bugs in your garden.

Whether you caned your summer harvest or froze it, I hope your summer garden was bountiful! 

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