The weather is getting quite nippy and the nights are getting darker. Life is moving a little bit slower, and things are winding down in your summer garden. But perhaps you don’t want to give up gardening just yet. Heck the weather is perfect for outdoor enjoyment right? Well you CAN keep growing well into winter. If this interests you check out my article on extending the growing season into fall and winter. It has lots of great tips and info on what kind of plants do well in cold weather.
In fact I just set up a cold frame for my greens (lettuce, arugla, and spinach). I used a shower door that some threw out during a home renovation and I set it on top of an existing raised garden bed. Cheap and easy!
There are still some gardening tips and strategies that you can employ to get you back outside and some dirt under your fingernails. You can add some color and life to your garden, and prepare it for winter. Depending on where you live, fall can be a very busy time in the garden. Here are some ideas:
* Water fruit tress well until into fall and until the ground freezes. They will have a long, cold winter depending on were you live and they need a good moisture supply to make sure they get through it well.
* Rake leaves and compost them. Or maybe just leave them. There are some gardeners who do not believe in leaving leaves around tees due to the potential for leaf-borne disease. I think that if the tree/leaves are healthy then it is important to leave a nice layer of leaves around the tree, covering the roots. This is what trees do right?! They shed their leaves which then provide insulation and moisture for the roots during the cold. It is a perfect system, don’t mess with it so you can have a perfectly manicured yard.
* Plant bulbs. Dig a hole, drop the bulb in, cover it up with soil and a thick layer of mulch, and go have a glass of apple cider. Tulips, Daffodils, Hyacinths, Crocuses, garlic, and Allium (my fave!) are typically planted in the fall so they can complete their growth cycle in time to come up in spring.
* Cut back bulbs that will be staying in the ground and cover them with mulch to protect them from harsh freezes.
* Weed!! Why wait until spring when you will be super busy? Get rid of weeds now!
* Pull all your spent vegetable plants, cut them up with pruning shears to speed decomposition and toss them in the compost pile.
* Clear out any annuals that are spent as well. Leaving them in the ground is easier yes but diseases and pests are discouraged when you clear the beds and allow them to overwinter plant free. So if they are no longer useful, get them out of there. If any of the plants did show signs of disease, toss them in the garbage, do not compost them.
* After clearing your garden beds cover them with an inch or two of compost or aged manure to help improve the fertility of your soil.
* Cover beds with mulch or garden fabric. This helps maintain a good porous surface and helps prevent soil erosion.
* Veggies – Cover strawberries with straw, cut back asparagus fronds after they brown from the first frost, and re-pot annual herbs to bring indoors.
* Drain and detach water hoses. Empty and clean your rain barrel. Store them in the garage or a shed.
* Enjoy the fall!
Is composting hard? No, not all. You just need to learn a few basic dos and don’t then you just get out of the way and let nature do it’s thing.
What Goes In Compost:
* Urine: dilute it with water first.
* Chicken manure: ideally from organically reared chickens.
* Comfrey: rich in many nutrients, especially potash, but contains almost no fiber.
* Lawn clippings: but mix them with dry material first, such as damp straw, weeds or leaves, as grass clippings can be too soggy on their own. Or let hem hang out on the lawn for a day or two to dry first.
* Kitchen waste: including tea bags, coffee grounds, eggshells, cooked pasta, fruit and vegetable trimmings.
* Farmyard manure: again ideally from horses or cows bred on organic farms.
* Seaweed: a great source of trace elements.
* Garden waste: chop it first to help the decomposing process.
* Weeds: especially stinging nettles which are high in nitrogen (treat in the same way as lawn clippings), but they should be young weeds that have not formed seeds or you will be spreading seeds around your garden or year when the compost is finished.
* Bracken: but avoid handling when it is producing spores as it is carcinogenic.
* Straw: should be damp and ideally already partly rotted.
*Woody prunings: shred them first.
* Newspaper, cardboard: use sparingly, shredded or torn up and dampened, and avoid materials with colored inks.
Things to avoid:
* Cat litter or dog excrement: both of these can carry disease.
* Meat and fish scraps: they smell as they rot and may attract rats and other pests.
* Diseased plant material: diseases can spread through the compost.
* Perennial weeds and weeds in seed: they may continue growing in the compost, especially if it is not hot enough to destroy the seeds.
* Plastic, tin, glass and other synthetic materials: they do not decompose.
The ideal method for making compost is to make a heap in one go, but to do this you need to collect bags of waste for several weeks or months. If you add material gradually, it may take at least eight to 12 months before it is ready to use, whereas in summer a newly constructed, complete heap would take around two months to turn to compost. A gradual heap may also not reach high enough temperatures to kill off weeds or diseases.
With either method, it is a good idea to layer the different materials, spreading them evenly and adding water if the material is dry, before covering the heap. Make sure your compost heap does not become too dry or wet. Soggy compost smells bad and takes a long time to break down; dry compost is also slow to decompose as microbes prefer damp conditions. To speed up decomposition, turn the compost with a fork every six to eight weeks.
Maintaining a high temperature is important to kill off weeds and diseases – your pile should be at least 50°C (122°F) (often not possible if composting gradually). If you are using a compost bin it should be at least 1 m3 (1 yd3) in size in order to achieve high temperatures and you can also help by lining the bin with dry autumn leaves or hay.
The compost is ready to use when it is a dark color, smells earthy and the original ingredients have almost gone. Remaining straw, twigs and sticks can be picked or sieved out. The final result can be used on gardens, lawns and house plants. Dig it into the soil or leave it on top for the worms to do the work for you. It is best applied in spring when the weather should be more conducive to its staying in the soil – heavy rain can wash the compost away before the worms can do their bit.
* Always protect the compost heap from rain with a waterproof cover.
* Make sure you can remove the bottom layer easily.
* Turn the heap every few months to introduce air into the mix.
* Dampen any dry material such as straw or autumn leaves first to aid its decomposition.
* Shred items tike leaves, newspapers, cardboard and weeds to speed up their decomposition.
* Mix fresh grass mowings and fruit and vegetable leftovers with dry material to stop the pile becoming too sodden.
* Make sure you have broad mixture of materials in the pile and layer them evenly.
* To avoid attracting flies and insects to kitchen waste, make a hole in the centre of your compost pile and bury the waste.
* If you want a quick start to your composting you can purchase compost activators or accelerators containing organic material designed to kick-start your compost.
* If you have large quantities of leaves, it may be worth composting them separately in a wire mesh container or in plastic sacks.
But if you are new to gardening and all this talk of creating your own compost has put you off making a start on your own garden, take heart – there are various green options that do not require you to devote a part of your garden to a decomposing pile of waste. Your local authority may well be running a community composting scheme or composting green waste from its parks and gardens, which it will deliver to you for a small fee, for example.
Creating your own nutrient rich soil is very rewarding. It is turning trash into treasure…food scraps into black gold. The bonus just happens to be that is is extremely easy to do. Happy composting!
No matter where you live, there are crops and gardening techniques that allow you to enjoy homegrown produce year round. Sure you can go to just about any supermarket, even in the dead of winter and buy all sorts of vegetables, but they won’t be as good as what comes right out of your own garden. Being more self reliant, independent, and living more sustainably also means trying to grow as much food as we can, all year long. Here are some season extending ideas, as well as a discussion on which crops do well when days get short and temperatures dip low.
One simple technique for extending the season is the use of floating row covers. At the beginning of your growing season as well as at the end, covers made of very thin lightweight fabric will protect your crops from cool weather damage, while still allowing 90% of sunlight to reach the plants. This will add about two weeks of growing time at either end of the season and it is an affordable solution.
No matter where you live, succession planting is also really smart. If you plant all your beans at the same time, they will all mature at the same time. This is perfectly okay if you plan on canning most of your harvest, but if you want to eat your beans right after picking, it is best to spread out your harvest. New beans, greens, veggies, etc will mature with each week, making sure you have a steady harvest all summer long and even into fall. With beans, carrots, lettuce, peas, etc. sow your seeds about a week apart from early spring to the beginning of July, and you will enjoying fresh produce well after summer has ended.
Photo Source: Agora Gardens
We always plant what we like to eat, but you should also consider what varieties do well in your particular area. Leeks and brussels sprouts for instance, take a very long time to grow, but do really well in cooler climates because they actually sweeten a bit after enduring a late fall frost. Planting brussels in late summer means a yummy harvest for Thanksgiving and even Christmas. Carrots and potatoes can remain in the ground for months after maturity and harvested while the ground is still workable. There are broccoli, lettuce and pea varieties that can be sown in mid summer for harvest in late fall. If frost or snow is a concern it is time to look into cold frames, a greenhouse, or grow hoops using supports and plastic covers. Supports and cover plastic can fit over your existing garden beds.
Finally, preserve your harvest. Freezing vegetables is easy to do and allows you to enjoy the fruits of your labor throughout the year. Grow some herbs and they can be dried and saved for years. Learn about canning. While you may not have the time or space to grow a variety of fruit, canning peaches, plums, raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, etc. from a local farmers market will supply you with healthy produce all year long.
You would be surprised at how long gardens will be produce, well into the fall and even early winter. Some plants are delicate while others can be pretty tough! Get those fall peas and lettuces going. Plant some garlic and shallots in November for next summer’s harvest and watch leeks really thrive as the temperatures drop!
I recommend picking up a copy of The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour. I absolutely lover her books and this one is especially awesome. She lives in Canada where she endures some of the harshest winters around and yet she grows food all year long. This book gives you an excellent step by step overview of how she does it and what she grows. It teaches you how to get a jump on spring, harvest warm weather crops well before you would normally, succession planting into fall, and harvesting throughout winter.
One of the biggest hopes you can have as a mom and an environmentalist is that your kids will want to take up your causes as they grow and mature. I could not be prouder of my oldest child (nearly 14) as he grows into a stellar young man. He is kind, empathetic, smart, a great cook and fisherman, and very much interested in sustainability and homesteading practices. He helps me in the garden and listens relentlessly to my babbling about political issues, food integrity, and saving the planet.
In an attempt to be more sustainable himself and grow greens for his three reptiles he decided he wanted to have a small scale aquaponics system in his bedroom. Actually he said something about a 50 gallon drum but I had to nix that idea and instead talked him into using his existing fish tank. He has a lovely 30 gallon tank and quite a few fish, all of which he purchased second hand on Craigslist by himself, using money he earned helping someone with a roofing project. With a bit of guidance from his Dad (who told him what he needed) he managed to rig together this pretty awesome little system. He spent about $40 for the materials. I love how easy this system is to put together. So many people have fish tanks in their home. It would be super easy for them to start using the nutrient rich tank water to grow greens, herbs, and other food items in their home. Plus when you clean the tank you can use that water in your outdoor garden. We do! Here is the fish tank:
You can see the aquaponics grow bed in the upper right hand corner of the photo. He took a small plastic storage container (which we already had) and he cut holes in the lid so that he could fit it with eight small baskets or hydrofarm net cups commonly used for hydroponics. In the baskets you find hydroton expanded clay pellets… no dirt or soil in sight. The baskets hang down inside the storage tub and the bottoms dip into the water which is continuously filled using a small aquaponics circulation pump inside the fish tank. The water is pumped up into the aquaponics grow bed, it is filtered for debris, and then once is reaches a certain height it overflows back into the fish tank via a plastic tube (got it from Menards).
And of course he added a grow light over the top of the grow bed to help the seedlings grow. And boy do they grow! A seed wrapped in a tiny bit of cotton ball will sprout and shoot up in a day or two, much faster than the those same seeds grown in soil outside. It is amazing. I can’t wait to post pictures of his mature greens and lettuce.
I am kind of fascinated with the idea of victory gardens. They are vegetable, fruit and herb gardens planted during world wars l & ll to ensure adequate food supply to the troops and civilians. They were planted at private residences and also public places. Public authorities, businesses, schools and seed companies worked together to grow more vegetables in order to reduce the pressure on the food supply at a critical time in our history.
People were asked to produce more of their own food and food for their neighbors and townships so that the food supply system in general could be pared down and more resources could be used on the war front. It was also a morale booster for the civilians that they are also contributing towards the war expenses and doing their part to fight for their country at home. By growing more of their own food they could also avoid the restrictions of food rations and become more self sufficient during those stressful times.
Americans ploughed their front and back yards and even public places to convert them to victory gardens. Even playgrounds were not spared. The gardens were a grand success as it is said that they produced about 40% of the the total vegetable and fruit needs of the country so that the nation could effectively utilize the resources meant for agriculture and divert them to waging the war. It reduced demand on materials used in food processing and canning. Railroads could focus on transporting munitions and not food. Excess produce from victory gardens were preserved and canned for the winter season.
The campaign for victory gardens was successfully launched with a media campaign that included colorful posters, features in the magazines, etc. It helped to imprint the idea in the minds of the populace.
Nowadays people are again thinking and talking about victory gardens. Though the victory gardens are history now, the idea behind them is still relevant. Production and supply of food materials are now controlled by corporations all over the world. More and more people have no idea how to grow their own food and feed themselves. They blindly delegate this responsibility to large companies and big agriculture. This is pure folly for many reasons though. These corporate food entities have no interest in making sure our food supply is healthy and safe. It is also crazy to think we don’t need to know how to take care of ourselves in a most basic sense…aka producing the food we need to live!
A replica of the campaign launched many decades ago is required now as it will help liberate the production and supply of food in this country. It would provide people all over the country with an opportunity to grow quality food items without the control of corporations. It would also save each homeowner money because they would not need as much from grocery stores and local markets.
It is a wonderful feeling to grow your own food and feed your family with nothing but your sweat and hard work. It is also a great feeling to become less dependent on “the man”. I like teaching my kids important lessons in the garden…aka where food comes from and how to grow it yourself! Preserving food is also another great skill for them to learn.
As a country we have become lazy and dependent when it comes to our food supply. It is time we wage a personal war to regain that control. For more information on how to get started see some of the links below…