Vegetable garden cleanup begins now

Preparing for another vegetable garden season begins now with garden cleanup. After all, it is fall!

Your vegetable garden has been productive and you have made that critical decision to do it again next year. Now is the time to begin preparations for next growing season. It seems odd to think of this year’s garden cleanup being the start of next year’s garden. But everything you get accomplished now will be removed as obstacles to planting next year.

The garden begins to close out its season in a specific order. All the warm season vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant lose those hours of intense sun and heat that they crave. They begin to shut down. This is why tomatoes that ripen in late September or October are often not as good tasting as those produced when there was more sun. The plants look sad and tattered. The cool season crops like chard, broccoli and many root vegetables will continue because they do best at cooler temperatures. But sometimes, a heavy frost or freeze knocks all the garden inhabitants flat in one sub-zero night.

This fall’s goal will be to harvest anything worth eating, remove fading plants, store garden equipment and prepare soil for next year. Make sure to remove any root vegetables that would not be affected by heavy frosts and store them for winter meals. But don’t store them outside. Put them in a building to protect them temporarily. Pull up and destroy any garden plants that experienced disease or problems during the summer. Some diseases and insect eggs can spend the winter comfortably in the compost pile and be back to plague next year’s plants. If there are weeds with seed heads on them in the garden, pull them up – seeds and all. They were definitely planning to return. This is the “burn or bury pile.”

Pull the other vegetable plants up or mow them off with a mower. It is much easier to turn in plant parts instead of whole ones. This is the time to till the soil and add organic matter like compost, composted manure or finely chopped leaves. You would like to work in about 4 inches of organic matter into the top 12 inches or so of soil. This is important for sandy soils to increase its ability to hold moisture and nutrients. It is important to clay soils to break up compaction and aid in water drainage. Just make a couple of passes with the tiller to leave a rough surface. This gives birds an opportunity to work over the soil, looking for six-legged treats or pupating insects. If the soil is finely tilled, winds can dry and erode it. It is also possible to leave the organic matter on top and incorporate it in the spring if this is a windy site.

If it is possible to store stakes, posts, tomato cages or fencing in a building, it will offer them some protection from the elements. They do not rust or rot as rapidly. If you don’t have that luxury, some can be stored outdoors. Drive a metal T-post into the ground and string the tomato cages in a horizontal position over the post. Push metal posts into the loops for the tomato cages. Wooden stakes will fare much better in a building away from damp, decaying conditions.

Next spring when the urge to plant is at its zenith, all the work done this fall will seem worth it. There will be fewer things to do before the top is ripped off that seed package and the garden adventure begins again.

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