□ I’m betting you still have some goodies out there that haven’t been harvested yet. It’s time to collect them.
- If you have some unripe tomatoes, you have some choices: Realize this is your last chance for several months to have fried green tomatoes, or you can turn them into green tomato relish, or you can pull the vines up by the roots and hang them upside down in a cool, dark place until they finish ripening. I know these are tough choices, but I’m not here to make your decisions for you. It’s up to you. If you have enough straggler tomatoes, you can do some of each and not have to choose!
- If you grew any herbs, you’ll no doubt want to dig them up and move them to containers. (Unless, of course, you grew them in containers in the first place—which is by far the easiest way to do it, because now you don’t have to dig them up. You just need to pick the containers up and move them inside.) You’ll need to cut back about halfway any herbs that had a particularly happy summer and grew abundantly. Dry or freeze any cuttings that you don’t use right away, or share them with friends. Or, if you have time, make some scented soap or some potpourri, or flavor some oil or salad dressing. Make your own “instant” seasonings. Turn some of these projects into gifts. There are lots of things you can do with those cuttings. Just imagine!
- Depending on your climate and your preferences, you can heavily mulch any crops that are cold hardy and planned for a late harvest–like Brussels sprouts,* cabbage, kale, potatoes, to name a few. Some good mulches for this purpose are straw, pine needles, leaves, or you can cover them with frost fleece. NOTE: If you use straw (my personal favorite), be sure you get straw and not hay. There is a difference, and you can tell by looking at it. If you see anything that looks like dry seed heads or dried green grass, it’s hay. Straw should not have any seeds or green color at all. It is consistently golden yellow in color. You do not want hay in your garden, unless you really love pulling stubborn grass out of your garden beds. Those seeds will sprout and LOVE all the TLC you’ll be giving it. There are no seeds at all in straw, so you will avoid that issue completely.
- * TIP: If you leave Brussels sprouts until after the first frost, the flavor is better. They lose some of the bitterness they have when they’re harvested too early.
- Depending on where you live, you may be able to leave root veggies, like potatoes, in the ground until you’re ready to use them. I live in an area with relatively mild winters, so I’m lucky enough to be able to do this. Otherwise, you’ll need to dig them up and store them.
□ Collect and store seeds for next year, especially for heirloom tomatoes, beans, peppers, etc. Some hybrids won’t be viable and germinate, however. I know Monsanto deliberately engineers their seed so that it won’t germinate (or doesn’t produce seed at all), so that—guess what? You’ll have to buy new seed from them every year.
- For more info about harvesting, saving, and storing garden seed, check these out:
- Saving Vegetable Seeds
- Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook
- How to Save Seeds (Seed Savers Exchange)
- A Beginner’s Guide to Saving Seeds from Your Favorite Vegetables (Rodale’s Organic Life)
- 6 Tips for Storing Your Saved Seeds (Rodale’s Organic Life)
- How to Store Your Seeds for Next Year
- How to Save and Store Your Heirloom Garden Seed
- Go to Amazon > books, and do a search for “saving garden seed.” You’ll get a goodly list.
- You can also take cuttings from many of your garden plants, like tomatoes and peppers, and get a head start on next year’s plants if you have a sunny place or greenhouse for them to winter.
□ Take care of your container plants.
- If you have annuals that have reached the end of their life spans, empty the contents (dead plants and all) into the compost. Don’t try to re-use the potting soil again next year—your plants won’t appreciate it—so you might as well use it to fill out your compost. Clean the debris and stuff out of the pots and store them in the garage, potting shed, or wherever, until you need them again.
- Do you have houseplants that you put out on the porch or patio for the summer? Most plant lovers do. Any plants that have spent the summer outside need a little more care before they’re brought back in.
- Plan to bring them in before you turn the heat on in your house; they’ll be able to acclimate with less stress.
- Start by generally cleaning them up: remove dead and faded leaves, stems, and blooms, spider webs, fall leaves, etc. Trim those that have become a bit overgrown. Use the cuttings to start new plants for you and for sharing with friends.
- Next—and this is the most important preparation—check for and get rid of lurking pests.
- Ants, spider mites, and various beetles are common hitchhikers. Personally, I don’t mind ants. I find them fascinating, but there are some ants that herd and keep aphids like we do livestock. No kidding. They have a place to “corral” them in their tunnels, they feed and care for them, herd them out to juicy plants where they protect the aphids from predators and wait for the aphids to turn the plant juices into honeydew, which the ants then collect for food. Fascinating, huh. (Check out this wonderful video about one of the ant species that “farms” aphids.)
- But the tiny varmints I most dread are venomous spiders. As an organic gardener, I generally love spiders and do what I can to make their lives comfortable. But we seem to have a prolific brown recluse population, and I know for a fact that a black widow has made a home in one of my houseplants that spent the summer on the porch. I only saw her once and have not been able to find her since, but I know she’s still there because she keeps rebuilding her web, which she’s expanded to include three of my other plants—all of which are lush with foliage. I see this as a challenge. Here’s how I plan to meet it—which, by the way, is the basic plan always, but I’ll be more diligent than usual this year, thanks to the shiny black lady sporting the red brooch:
- I will start with the less lush, less infested plants, because I don’t want to chase the critters from the plants they’re currently inhabiting to other plants. I’ll trim the more lush plants as much as possible, and be quite diligent in performing the following steps.
- I’ll first inspect for any obvious hitchhikers on the plant itself and remove any that I can hand-pick. Some of my pots are inserted into decorative, ceramic planters, so I’ll take them out to make sure no critters are hiding in there.
- Next, I’ll flush the soil with water several times a few minutes apart, or submerge the pot into a bucket of water and leave it there for several minutes.
- Then I’ll spray the foliage with water—especially the underside of leaves—to remove any pests lurking there or that collected there to escape the water purging.
- Lastly, fresh mulch will adorn the soil surface in order to discourage those pesky fungus gnats. And now, it’s ready to move inside.
□ Protect and winterize perennial beds.
- Cut flower stalks and divide plants as necessary.
- Mark their locations with labels of some sort. I cut them from white plastic containers or something similar and write on them with indelible markers. You can even use sticks, if you like, but they have a tendency to disappear or get raked up or go unnoticed. It’s like using rocks—who can tell if it was marking a location or just there? Of course, you can always paint them. Popsicle sticks would work.
- Finally, cover the bed with a blanket of mulch to keep it nice and cozy through the winter.
□ Dig up tender bulbs and rhizomes for winter storage and replanting next year. I usually don’t do this, because our winters are mild enough to make it unnecessary, but you might need to, depending on where you live. If you need to dig yours:
- Plan to do it a week or two after your first frost.
- Cut the stalk/leaves to about six inches.
- Then dig up the root clump, careful to not cut the bulbs.
- Clean the dirt off of them and if they’re wet or damp, let them dry at room temperature.
- Put them in paper bags that you label so you’ll know what’s in there. Never ever try to store them in plastic; they’re much more likely to rot.
- Store them in a cool place where they won’t freeze. Many people winter them in the crisper drawer in the refrigerator. The garage will work as long as it doesn’t freeze.
□ Prune shrubs and trees. Stake young trees to help them survive fall and winter winds.
□ Put garden beds to bed.
- Rhubarb, asparagus ferns, and most other plants can now be cut or pulled up and composted. Don’t put diseased or moldy plants—even dead ones—in the compost, though. It’s best to burn those or put them in a trash bag to be hauled off.
- It’s time to work the beds that are going to be fallow over the winter and blanket them with mulch.
- Now is also the time to add “green” or “hot” manure to the compost and/or work it into the beds themselves. Don’t ever add green manure to beds with living plants in them. The methane it releases as it decomposes will kill the plants. Always make sure it’s aged first—which is why this is a good time to add it.
□ NOTE: If you’re doing any fall planting and/or planning a garden for next year, now’s the time to go on to the LOOKING FORWARD TO SPRING CHECKLIST. If you’re going on to that checklist, you’ll need to come back to this point after you’ve finished that and complete this checklist. Otherwise, it’s time to do this now:
- Clean, sharpen, and put away your tools and equipment. First, inspect everything to see if anything needs to be repaired or replaced. Clean off dirt by washing tools thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Rub metal parts with vegetable oil to prevent rusting, and wooden handles with linseed oil to keep them from drying out and cracking.
- Also, wash out empty pots, seed trays, and other planter/containers with hot soapy water and get them organized and shelved for the winter.
- To prepare power equipment for winter storage, drain the gas, add a drop of oil to the firing end of spark plugs, and check air filters (although I prefer to do this last one in the spring, if I don’t forget!).
- Always store tools and equipment inside a protected area, such as a shed or garage, for the winter.
□ Clean out and reorganize your storage area before stashing everything for the winter. You’ll be more motivated in the spring if you don’t have to start the season digging through a mess to find what you need.
□ If you use insecticides, etc.,–I hope you don’t use -cides of the environmentally hazardous variety–keep in mind that they lose effectiveness once opened, so dispose of them safely.
□ Clean out gutters, bird baths, water features, etc.
□ If you collect rain water, be sure to use the old water up before it becomes stagnant—use it to flush your houseplants before taking them in!–and clean out the empty barrels/containers and get them ready for collecting all that lovely autumn rain.
□ If you live in an area that gets below freezing temps, be sure to wrap exposed water pipes and disconnect and drain water hoses.
One more thing: Remember to follow Color Us Empowered on Facebook where I share the best articles, videos, and other information about all aspects of gardening (among other things) that I can find.
Now, settle in for the winter. Grab a cup of your favorite warm beverage, a snug comforter, and a good book. We’ll get back to the garden, but for now, take a break.