We’re a good 15 days past our average first frost date (which proves the point that the frost date is, indeed, average). This past weekend was glorious and we got (maybe our last) intense dose of Vitamin D in addition to getting much of The Yarden taken care of for the winter… in the process I was thinking of the types of hints I would share with you all if you were my neighbors (and if you asked but, since you’re reading this I’m assuming you kind of are asking!)
[Despite our modern lives, gardening is still best learned from neighbors and books - and now blogs. Cicero had it right so many centuries ago when he said "If you have a garden and a library you have everything you need." I wonder what that famous quote would have been like if he'd had a MacBook Air?]
The first tip we were calling “The Maribeth Method” because it was introduced to us by our friend Maribeth who is a relatively new gardener that I met through The Peterson Garden Project. Last year was her first year growing vegetables. In her passion to learn (and share) as much as she can about her new love she passed this tip on to us (I’m beginning to see a “neighbors & books” theme developing here…) My first thought after hearing this handy hint was “duh” and, the second thought, “I wish I would have thought of that.”
Instead of pulling your spent plants (especially the big, woody ones), cut them off at the base and let the root ball compost over the winter. The nutrients will return to the soil – the stalk will desiccate and be a cinch to pull out in the spring. (This is also a good excuse to use any monster pruners you may have won in a contest and didn’t exactly know what to do with until now.)
This is a variation on The Maribeth Method for plants with vegetables that still need to be harvested. Cut them at the base per the method above and harvest the fruit after. You can take all the plants and place them on a table so you can harvest without bending over. Very convenient when there’s a big crop to pick.
You probably know from reading this blog that the shrub rake is one of my favorite tools for small space gardening. It is particularly helpful when harvesting tomatillos and ground cherries as they fall to the ground when they’re fully ripe. Instead of lots of bending to get them one by one, I use the shrub rake to gently pull them into a pile and grab large handfuls all at once.
Man, I’m sounding lazy in this post! Well, I am turning 44 in a few days so perhaps it is my age showing.
Simple Seed Saving
I save the “easy” seeds – beans, okra, etc. Essentially anything that can dry out in the garage for a few months and be processed in the winter when I’m desperate for any garden related activity. “Easy” seeds include garlic chives (which are wonderful if you haven’t tried them). My easy trick for garlic chives and other “easy” seeds is to use paper lunch bags for collection. The flat base of the bag keeps them from tipping over while you’re filling them and they allow a lot of air circulation. With the garlic chives, the blossoms can sit in the bag for a few months then I’ll shake the dried flowers to collect all the seeds. The bag is then easily identified with a Sharpie, rolled up and saved for spring seed swaps! I take all the variously labeled bags and put them in a ziplock to keep them in one place.
While the first frost has yet to hit, it is clear there are way too many tomatoes that will never make it to full ripeness. Aside from coming up with all sorts of innovative green tomato recipes (Green Tomato Lasagna anyone?) it is also easy to ripen green tomatoes to enjoy later in the fall/winter. WARNING: They won’t taste as great as those from earlier in the summer! But you put all this effort in to your tomatoes – might as well get the most out of them. All you have to do is wrap the tomatoes in old newspaper and put them in a dark place. If you place them in a box, make sure they aren’t too deep (two layers is good). Check them frequently and enjoy. But DO check them often or it could get gross.
Gardening should be your happy place! To me that means a guilt free place. During clean up it is easy to think about the things you should have done differently… the “flaws” are obvious this time of year. However, after years and years of gardening I’ve realized the garden is the ultimate “no control” zone in many ways (see “Top 5 Dumb Mistakes” to learn about our lessons from 2010) and it is good to adopt an attitude of wonder and thankfulness. With increasingly busy lives, I refuse to feel badly if something in the garden doesn’t go according to “my” plan. Take my scallop squashe this year… I had to travel quite a bit for work and kept missing the window when they were tiny and delicious. Instead of feeling bad I just let them grow and decided to call them “pumpkins” and use for fall decorating. Problem solved!
This isn’t really about clean up but more about “spruce” up. Right now it is MUM season. I don’t think anyone (except my mother) really likes mums per se but we do what we must when we’re all desperate to hang on to whatever last vestiges of color we can. If you do buy mums, it is easy to cover the plastic pots with a cut up paper bag from the grocery store. Tie the bag with some raffia or rustic cord and instant cute container! [My friend Mark gets the credit for this one. He could rummage through someone's garage and cute up their entire existence with whatever he found.]