Fall Garden Preparation

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The calendar page turned this week to September, and while there are still officially several more weeks left of summer, in many parts of the country, the heat of summer has already given way to cooler evenings. As the month progresses, you’ll need to tackle some basic chores in the fall organic garden to ensure a steady supply of vegetables for as long as you can harvest them and a healthy garden next spring.

Prepare Garden Beds for Winter

This month, focus on cleaning up and removing any spent plants. As tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, squash and other plants finish their natural cycles and you’ve harvested the last vegetables, it’s time to remove the plants. Pull up the entire plant, shaking as much soil as you can from the roots. Do not compost the plants. Some insects lay their eggs on the leaves, and plants may harbor unfriendly microorganisms such as viruses, molds, and fungi that can proliferate in the warm, moist compost.  Bag them and put them in the trash.

After removing the spent plants, add more compost to the beds. Turn it into the soil gently. For plants that remain in the ground such as strawberries, apply mulch around the base of the plant.


Plant another Row of Lettuce

Lettuce is one of those organic vegetables that seem to come in all at once, or not at all. The real secret to a successful organic garden is to plant seeds every week or two throughout the planting cycle. This provides plants at various stages of growth. As you harvest the older ones for salads and smoothies, you’ll have new ones only a week or two away.

If you have not already planted other greens, do so now.  Spinach often winters over and you can get a second crop in the spring. Harvest leaves now for salads and meals and leave the plants in the ground. Mulch them, and sometime in the early spring, you may see green shoots again. It’s a welcome sight after the long, cold winter.

Collect Seeds

Now is the time to collect flower seeds from plants such as daisies, Echinacea, and marigolds – perhaps the easiest seedpods to harvest.  For daisies and Echinacea, use your garden shears and snip off the flower pods. I snip them off into an old coffee can and leave them in the sun or in a dry, covered area such as the garage or a shed to dry out.  Then with a shake of the coffee can, the seeds fall out of the seed heads. I store them in a clean, dry container with a tight fitting lid. For marigold seeds, all you need to do is pluck off the brown, cylindrical seedpods and let them dry in a bucket, can or another container. They’re the easiest of all the flowers to save and store seeds and usually have a high germination rate.

Watch the Weather

As we enter the transitional period between summer and fall, keep your eye on the weather reports. Northern gardeners may need to watch for early frosts and take houseplants and tender herbs inside this month.  East coast and Gulf coast gardeners may need to watch the weather reports for hurricanes and tropical storms. Such natural events come with heavy rain and strong wind which can damage plants and destroy outdoor furniture; if such a weather event is predicted in your area, harvest as many vegetables as you can and take potted plants into a covered area so they won’t tip over.  While you won’t be able to protect everything, anything that’s not planted directly in the ground should be moved indoors if a strong wind is forecast.

Fall is a fabulous time to enjoy the garden. Days are warm yet mornings and evenings are cool, inviting you to linger in the green shadows of the garden. Mature flowers add color and fragrance, and the vegetable garden brims with healthy organic produce. Enjoy the late season fruits of the harvest!


About the Author

Jeanne Grunert is a writer and marketing consultant who moved from New York City to a 17 acre organic farm in rural Virginia. She writes about gardening, health and raw foods for many publications, and her gardening book, Get Your Hands Dirty – A Beginner’s Guide to Gardening is available in paperback and as an E book on Amazon.com or Lulu.com, the publisher’s website. For more about Jeanne, her books and writing, please visit www.sevenoaksconsulting.com

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Written by:  Jeanne Grunert
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