Fall is in the air. The signs are all around us: Puffins have departed for the open ocean, salmon fishermen are hanging up their gear, the top of Barometer is topped with gold, and I haven’t seen a bumblebee since September 10th.
Also in the air, is The Question: What kind of winter are we going to have?”
I don’t have a clue, but I can tell you that temps are dropping and that we will have a cold season, global warming notwithstanding. To prepare for the inevitable, I’m trying to accomplish a little bit in the garden each day. This past week, I planted garlic, sowed spinach seeds, planted daffodil and crocus bulbs and harvested more berries.
Before I list some necessary fall preparations, I’d like to share one of my favorite quotes about the autumn season, by Thalassas Cruso, the Julia Child of gardening:
“Fall is not the end of the gardening year; it is the start of next year’s growing season. The mulch you lay down will protect your perennial plants during the winter and feed the soil as it decays, while the cleaned-up flower bed will give you a huge head start on either planting seeds or setting out small plants.”
Read that again. Pay close attention to her words, “huge head start.”
For the past 23 years, I devote several columns to fall garden chores. Why? Because what you accomplish in September and October sets you up (or down) for spring gardening success. This goes for all that aspects of gardening: Lawnmowers, hand tools, buckets, hoses, outside raised beds, compost, hanging baskets, containers, greenhouses, hoophouses, mini-hoop gardens, harvesting and ‘putting up’ your harvest, etcetera.
Another thing I’ve worked on over the years is to take complicated projects such as composting and give it a simplified ‘Reader’s Digest’ spin so it doesn’t come across as overwhelming.
At the same time, my goal is to be a cheerleader: Remember, there is no such thing as failure in the garden. Just toss it in the compost pile and chalk it up to experience. All experience is in the positive, in that they provide lessons from which we grow.
Thalassa Cruso (the name Thalassa is the Greek word for ‘sea’), who starred in the weekly public television program “Making Things Grow” from 1966 to 1969 had a witty and brisk, common sense way of indoctrinating viewers, mostly novices, into the world of gardening. “If a plant is unbelievable tatty, dispose of it without the least feeling of guilt,” she said in an interview in the early 70s.
As promised, a starter list of fall chores. Like rocks on the seashore breaking up large ocean swells on their way to the beach these “rocks” will reduce the ocean swells of work that need to be done before winter hits:
HERBS: Pick remaining herbs and corresponding flowers. Dry them, make herbal vinegars or pesto, chop them into salads. Or as a friend who cruises year-round on their sailboat (with a tiny freezer) treats herbs: Chop herbs, sprinkle salt on them as a preservative and store them in the freezer.
NASTURTIUMS: Make pesto from the leaves, pack the blossoms into sandwiches and toss into salads and vinegars.
FALL LEAVES: Rake into piles and pack into bags and totes. Use in compost or store for next summer’s mix with lawn clippings.
PLANT FLOWERING BULBS: Don’t delay. Bulbs need time to establish roots.
LAWN: For your last mowing, mow high. And if a few leaves decorate the lawn, all the better. Mulch them and leave them on the lawn.
TOMATOES: Left with end-of-the-season tomatoes? Pull the plant, roots and all (I learned this trick from a B&B guest from Colorado) and hang it upside down in the garage or shed. “It’s a great way to let them ripen on the vine,” she said. Pick green tomatoes and if you don’t want to wait for them to ripen, turn them into green tomato-lemon marmalade or a pickled relish.
SPINACH: Last call for planting spinach seeds in the hoophouse or outside beds. (Outside beds will eventually need to be set up with hoops and covered with plastic by the end of October). As I mentioned last week, spinach is our best “winter green” from February (if the winter is mild) to April.
ONIONS AND GARLIC: Pull, dry and store in a cool dry place.
GERANIUMS (window box variety): To over-winter geraniums, bring them inside before frost. Trim them back in the pot. Or you can or remove them altogether, shake off the dirt and hang them upside down in a brown bag, in a cool, dark place.
KALE, BROCCOLI, ETC: Picking kale as long as you can is a fruitful thought, but if you don’t remove the whole plant this winter, you increase the chance of a root maggot or cabbage worm invasion next season.
POTATOES: Pull potatoes soon. If the soil is wet, handle them carefully so you don’t damage the soft skin. Don’t wash potatoes before storing.
SLUGS: After pulling tatty plants, you’ll probably see more slugs than you want to admit. They’ve frolicked in the recent rains. Get out the Sluggo or salt bucket and start picking.
Speaking of slugs, I never watched Thalassas Cruso’s “Making Things Grow” show, but I’ve heard she was quite entertaining. During one segment she discovered a slug among one of the plants.
“Ha! There’s the little brute,” she exclaimed as she flicked the invading slug onto her worktable. Cautioning squeamish viewers to avert their eyes, she raised a flowerpot above the table. The pot came crashing down, and the slug was history. WGBH in Boston, which produced “Making Things Grow”, was flooded with mail from delighted viewers.
How about you? Would you like to connect with local gardeners and growers? Visit the Kodiak Growers Facebook page and watch for garden workshops at the public library. If you’re looking for one of my columns from the past, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or search through archived copies at www.kodiakdailymirror.com.
To sign up for Marion’s “Goodness from Kodiak” newsletter, visit her blog at MarionOwenAlaska.com.