Ask Eartha: Getting your garden ready for fall
September 22, 2010
Do you have any suggestions for getting my garden ready for fall while using the most of what nature has to offer? What do I do with my full compost bin?
I have mixed feeling about this time of year, “Leaf Season,” when the vibrant orange and yellow leaves litter my garden and the last of my flowers and lettuce greens look droopy and cold. To me, it’s what I imagine sending kids off to college is like. You’re sad to see the plants go but somewhat relieved to have some downtime – no more early morning watering, deadheading, or weeding by hand.
Since today is the first day of fall, there is still quite a bit of work to do to get your garden ready for hibernation. Last week I went into season extender mode, pulling out my beloved Reemay or garden blankets, patching my small handmade hoop houses, and getting creative about natural heat warmers for the beds.
If you haven’t heard about Reemay, it’s fantastic! Reemay is an affordable, lightweight and breathable garden cloth that provides frost protection for your plants and can extend your season by a couple of weeks. You can leave the cloth on all day and night and water directly through the cloth while pulling it back to harvest at will.
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This is the time of year to start prepping your garden beds for spring. As you notice different perennials changing colors and losing leaves, slowly cut down garden debris and try the chop and drop method. The chop and drop is nature’s way of recycling. Ideally, when plants drop their leaves, leaves need to recycle nutrients back into the soil to keep the soil healthy for your plants. If you spend all of your time raking out fallen leaves and flowers, you are depleting your soil of much-needed nutrients.
There’s a couple of processes you can take to keep your soil healthy throughout winter for later spring plantings. The chop and drop can be messy. While this method does allow some plant material to compost into the soil, it’s not fast enough to beat the freeze zone when the snow hits here in Summit County. Once the fallen plant matter freezes, it crystallizes and becomes a mushy mess come spring. I don’t mind the mess and get a kick out of raking the leftovers back into my compost bin during spring cleanup.
The same goes for your full but not-so-composted compost bin. With your composter, you can try the dump and cover method. I like to empty my bin during fall so I have an empty bin for all of winter’s kitchen scraps. When food and paper scraps freeze in your compost bin, they tend to bulk up instead of breaking down. If you have a tumbler or a small bin in your backyard, you can fill your bin in a matter of months so it’s best to have an empty bin for winter composting.
With the dump and cover method, I rake and shovel partly composted and composted materials into my garden. Not only are you providing your plants with an extra layer of insulation to fight off those bitterly cold snowstorms, you are returning nutrients to your soil.
I always recommend a good boost of compost to any fall garden. Compost has been known to fight off plant disease, provide food for beneficial organisms, buffer your soil pH, and keeps your garden warmer in the winter. If you don’t have access to compost, don’t fret. Compost is still available at the Summit County Resource Allocation Park (SCRAP) in Keystone. Even better, the commercial compost produced at SCRAP comes from local composting programs like zero waste events and composting in the schools. Visit the composting page on HC3’s website for more information or give us a call at (970) 668-5703.
Eartha Steward is written Jennifer Santry and Erin Makowsky at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.