What To Plant Right Now!

It may be too early to set out your peppers and tomatoes, but are there any seeds to plant now? If you have the right conditions, many cool season crops can be planted very soon! Get your garden ready and plant these vegetables right now!

Some veggie seeds can be planted well before your local date of last frost. In seed packet directions it’s not uncommon to see the expression ‘as soon as the ground can be worked’. This means that the frost must be out of the ground and the garden has warmed up. Moisture level is another factor. If the soil is too wet, seeds will surely rot in the dirt.

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Good soil is the key to a successful garden!

Working your soil too early can also destroy the delicate soil structure. Digging or tilling will compact the garden, making it less able to dry out. Try the old squeeze test. Grab a handful of soil and squeeze it in your fist. The garden soil should be fluffy and light, not forming a ball in your palm. The type of garden you have may also determine when you are able to plant. Traditional gardens may take more time to fully dry out, while raised beds tend to dry out more quickly. If a garden is in a low area, soil may take longer to get to the proper moisture level.

What to Plant Now

If you want to plant early, think of cool season crops. Root crops such as carrots, radishes, parsnips and turnips can be planted.

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Radish harvest.

Many salad greens seeds can be pushed into the soil with great growing success.

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Chard is a wonderful addition to the edible landscape.

Beets and chard thrive in cooler temps and it’s a great time to think about getting members of the onion family in the ground as well.

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‘Ruby Streaks’ mizuna.

Different varieties of mustard greens excel with the absence of pests in early spring.

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Peas climbing on wire.

Planting peas is one of the first things we do. My neighbor is an avid gardener and we are always watching for him to plant his peas. The age old goal is to have fresh peas by the 4th of  July and usually we make it. I soak my pea seeds the night before planting. This gives them a little head start when they get into the ground. If the forecast is calling for a week of rain, hold off on direct seeding. Wait until it’s a bit drier and your seeds will thank you.

Under Cover Crops

If you are concerned about night time temps, a secured floating row cover could be placed over newly emerging seeds. Some growers plant and then place a milk jug over the plant to act as a mini greenhouse.

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Floating row cover suspended over greens.

The brassica family includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts. Seed packets will tell you to plant seed directly in the garden maybe 3-4 weeks before date of last frost. I don’t know anyone who directs seeds around here. Let me know if you do. Your best bet is to start seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before last frost or purchase healthy seedlings at your local greenhouse. Then, 2-4 weeks before last frost, set out seedlings into the garden. Watch the weather and night temperatures. You could also erect a temporary greenhouse to get a jump on the season. If you can successfully grow brassicas, you will love the flavors!

Choose the Right Varieties

When choosing garden seed for cool season crops, read seed packets carefully. Choose varieties that do well in cooler temps. Some lettuce types love cold weather, where summer varieties keep going through the heat of summer. Certain carrot varieties can withstand cool or very cold weather. I explain figuring out seed lingo in Decoding The Seed Packet, a post designed to help gardeners understand seed packet information.

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Pea seeds soon will go in the ground!

Better to Wait

Warm season veggies should be set out after all danger of frost. It’s just so much better to wait for things like tomato and pepper seedlings. I usually direct seed cucumbers, beans and squash in late May here in zone 5b Maine. Early planting of these vegetables may lead to killing the plants and making you a very discouraged gardener! So, be patient and you will enjoy a more successful garden.

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Early season seeds!

If you plant soon, you will be thinning those first beet greens out of the garden before you know it. Within the next few weeks I will be sowing some of these cool season seeds in my gardens. I plan on getting my heat tolerant salad greens and radishes in the ground soon too. i usually put the seeds that I want to plant first into a small basket. Every time I have a few minutes, I go out and plant one or two things. Check out your garden. Planting time may be sooner than you think !

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Garden harvest.

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”-William Shakespeare. I saw this quote the other day and it made me think of many that I know who want to be in the garden but cannot because of poor health or circumstances. That is a harsh reality but I do hope that this post has made you feel like getting out in your garden. Spring chores can seem overwhelming. Just pick away at them a little at a time and you will get there! Thank you!

If any if you are going to be in the Rockland, Maine area this Saturday at 1pm, I will be teaching a mason be class at ArtLoft Rockland. We will be learning how to attract our native bees to our gardens and making bee houses from natural and recycled materials. Go to www.artloftrockland.org to register!

Hilary|Everlongardener

How To Start A New Garden

Sometimes the biggest obstacle a potential gardener can have is simply starting a garden.  The fear of failure prevents them from jumping right in.  I’ve been asking various people a question.  If they were to move into a new house, how would they start a new vegetable garden?  Some said raised beds, others said cardboard and mulch.  How would you start a new garden?

Traditionally, gardeners begin their years of toil by tilling a plot.  Nothing like that fresh dirt in neat, long rows!  But, then what happens?  Shortly after planting, a myriad of weeds emerge, ready to drown out any small plant pushing through the surface.  Better get out your hoe for hours of endless weeding!  Let’s explore a few ways to start a new garden and how to minimize some of the work!

Raised Bed Gardens

If you’ve read my post Try Raised Beds For Easy Gardening, you know that I’m a huge advocate for the raised bed.  I find that they cut my work literally in half.  With the garden raised up above the ground about a foot, you can easily sit on the side to harvest and work.  Weeding is minimal in a raised bed garden so most of your work will be planting, watering and picking.

Raised beds fix many gardening problems.

Raised beds can be made from many different materials.  Logs, cement blocks, pallet beds, brick.  Wooden boards are probably the most common thing used for the sides.  When the boards are 12″, the bed allows for growing longer crops such as carrots and parsnips.  Cedar, pine and our personal favorite hemlock are often used.  Hemlock boards can last for over 10 years.  Never use treated lumber when building a food garden bed because the toxic chemicals can leach into the soil.  Of course, if the soil is okay under the bed, don’t feel pressured to have 12″ beds.  I’ve even seen raised garden tables for no bending over whatsoever!  Talk about easy on your back!

We love our raised bed gardens!

Raised beds can be built with any dimentions that you like.  Since boards often come in 12′ lengths, we have built 12’x3′ beds.  A 3-4′ width across the bed makes for easier picking and sowing.  Our beds are secured with 3″ screws.  Lay one layer of cardboard in the bottom of the bed.
This will suppress weeds that may be under the new bed.  Our boxes have been filled with garden loam and then topped with compost or aged manure, which get worked in over the summer.  Every year, additional topdressing ensures soil fertility.  Cardboard can be placed on the ground between beds to establish a weed free path.  This can be covered with bark mulch or crushed rock.

Putting the board together for the box gardens.

Once you have your beds in place, many gardening methods can be used.  Mulch or no mulch, square foot gardening, it works well for so many things.  Worms can come right up from the ground below to start cultivating your soil.  There is some initial cost up front but the rewards will outweigh this very quickly.  I actually made a friend into a raised bed convert a number of years ago.  Now her whole front yard is full of them!

Simple No-dig Method

The no-dig method is making great strides in the gardening world.  There have been many similar garden types out there such as heavily mulched gardens and lasagna gardens.  The idea is to cover existing weeds with a layer of cardboard or newspaper, then add your soil right on top.  Compost or aged manure is then used to dress out the bed.  Beds can be made with sides or no sides.  In this type of gardening, no digging goes on.  Put away your spade and tiller.  Only a trowel is used for digging surface weeds.  This idea appealed to me so much, that last year I began to implement Charles Dowding’s no-dig advice.

Good soil is the key to a successful garden!

Many of us want to save money by having a home garden.  If you are starting a new garden, try not to skimp on soil.  I read somewhere recently to spend 75% of your garden budget on soil and soil amendments.  That may seem pretty steep but in the case of soil you really get out what you put into it.  For more detailed information on this topic go to No-dig Gardening or look up the expert himself, Charles Dowding.  I’m really excited to see how the results turn out for us in the coming gardening season.

Some reading on the no-dig garden subject.

Incorporating Edibles Into The Existing Landscape 

So, what if you can’t start a new garden but you want to grow more of your own food?  Container gardening is a fantastic way to utilize deck or driveway space.  Mix herbs into your flower boxes for an aromatic display.  Try planting deck tomatoes.  There are many self-watering planters on the market and the internet is full of do-it-yourself planter ideas.  Check your shed, you may have some pots that you can use out there!

My mothers beans in a container.

This picture above shows young pole beans planted in a horse grain container.  Almost anything that will hold dirt and keep in some water will work.

Chard is a wonderful addition to the edible landscape.

If you have existing perennial gardens, could you make room for some edibles?  Think about placing a few tomatoes or a bean teepee in between shrubs.  A potted cucumber tower could provide plenty of cukes with vertical growing.  Spots between perennial flowers can be cozy homes for clumps of lettuce, kale, carrots or chard.  Ever-bearing alpine strawberries make an adorable garden edging.  Add in a few high bush blueberries to the side of your yard.  Get creative, the more you plant, there will be fewer places for weeds to come up!

Leaf lettuce can provide an abundant harvest!

Whatever you choose to do for a garden, why not try something new? Many gardeners are proving that these methods really work and make gardening a whole lot easier.   One of the biggest rewards is the taste of homegrown produce!

We are in our first week of spring here at Everlongardener.  The weather feels a bit more like January but maybe March is going out with a bang!  Thanks for giving this a read this week and feel free to subscribe in the sidebar for more weekly gardening motivation.  Leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.  Remember, anyone can garden!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

5 Easy Vegetables For The Beginner Gardener

So many of the beginner gardeners that I talk to have an idea of what they want but don’t know how to get there.  The first vegetable garden I had in my adult life was very simple.  A few tomatoes, green beans and some lettuce.  Over the years, little by little, more types of flowers and vegetables have been added to my garden.  This is my list of 5 easy vegetables for beginner gardeners.

Green Beans

Whether you choose bush or pole beans, this easy vegetable can be a sure-fire crop.  Grow it well and you may be harvesting tons of beans.  Tasty, fresh green beans can be pricey in the stores but with just one packet of seeds you could be feeding quite a few people.

Wax bush beans.

First, decide if you are growing bush or pole beans.  Bush beans grow in a low, bushy formation and are fairly early.  Pole beans grow up a support and produce beans later than bush types.  For the first time gardener, you may want to start off with a few rows of bush beans.  If you are a bit more adventurous, add in two poles and grow climbing beans.  They will extend your bean harvest and can be easier to pick.

A mixture of wax and green beans.

We plant our bush beans in short rows and hill dirt around them as they grow.  To grow pole beans, you will need to plan for adequate supports well before planting day.  Bean teepees are popular or a trellis can be used.  We have an abundance of young trees in our woods, so we tend to set 10′ saplings in the ground fairly deep.  This may sound like overkill, but believe me, the bean vines are heavy and summer winds can be strong.

‘Romano’ pole beans climbing.

Look for tender varieties such as ‘Provider’, ‘Jade’ or French beans like ‘Hardicots Verts’.  Wax beans are pleasing to the eye as well as the palate.  Pole beans come in many lengths and colors.  Some favorites are ‘Romano’, a flat Italian and good old ‘Kentucky Wonder’.  I have to tell you that they are better than gold!

Lettuce

There are few things as glorious as making a salad from ingredients that you have grown yourself.  That being said, the foundation of such a salad is of course the lettuce.  Start with seeds in early spring.  Save some of your seeds for successive plantings.  With a little careful planning, you can harvest lettuce into the fall.

Leaf lettuce in the garden.

Some of the easiest lettuce varieties to grow are loose leaf types.  By cutting outer leaves, the lettuce plant is pushed to grow more leaves.  Pick colors and textures that appeal to you.  ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ is an old standby that sports bright green ruffles.  ‘Red Salad Bowl’ is a staple of the spring garden.  ‘Mesclun’ mix is an easy choice for a colorful mix.  For some warm season types, try ‘Summer Lettuce Mix’ from Fedco.  Other companies will carry a similar mixture that will be slow to bolt in the summer heat.

Gorgeous bowl of salad greens.

Plant a few rows of lettuce seeds as soon as ground can be worked.  Pick up a few lettuce seedlings if you want to get a jump on production.  Then, plant a few seeds every two weeks or so.  You can count on a continual harvest.  Sow additional seed in August for months of fall salad greens.  To learn about extending the harvest, read about Succession Planting.

Peas

One of the earliest of vegetables is the garden pea.  Like beans, they come in bush and climbing varieties.  At our house, we like our garden peas for fresh eating.  They rarely, if ever, make it to the table.  We relish those first sweet, firm green peas.  Fresh peas are also excellent in green salads.

Peas climbing up the support.

Peas will need a support if they are climbers.  3′ chicken wire between two garden stakes works just fine.  Some gardeners use strings with much success.  Pick out early types like ‘Sugar Ann’ or ‘Sugar Snap’.  Peas can be planted out very early.  Make sure soil is not too wet.  Attempting to grow enough for the freezer may be a stretch for the beginner gardener.  Plant according to your space.

Radishes

Nothing makes you feel like a gardener more than pulling those first crisp radishes from the garden soil!  How many other vegetables can you really grow in less than 30 days?  Radishes are an obvious choice for adding into salads but their greens can be used in soups and stir-fry’s.

Radishes with salad greens.

One of the great things about growing radishes is that they are generally a cool season crop.  Plant your first seeds in early spring and plant another round in fall for a second harvest.  Radishes take up very little space so they can be planted on there own or inter-planted with other vegetables such as lettuce.

Radish harvest.

For spring radishes, choose a traditional red like ‘Cherry Belle’ or go for a mix of reds, purples, whites and pinks.  ‘White Icicle’ has a long cylindrical formation.  ‘French Breakfast’ is alwaysan elegant choice.  Make sure when choosing radish varieties, that you take the hotness factor into consideration.  You will want to be able to eat what you plant.

Tomatoes

What beginner garden would be complete without a few tomatoes?  Choose tomato types according to what you like to eat.  If you like to make sauce choose ‘San Marzano’ or ‘Amish Paste’.  For the salad eater, try currant, grape or cherry varieties like ‘Sun Gold’ or ‘Super Sweet 100’.  For the BLT lover, go for slicers like the reliable ‘Jetstar’.

A variety of beautiful tomatoes.

Tomatoes are generally prolific.  A gardener can stake, cage or string tomatoes for support.  Pruning suckers can ensure an earlier harvest as well as managing plant size.

Place tomatoes in zipper bag to freeze.

Preserving the harvest can be as easy as freezing whole tomatoes.  If you want to put up a few and don’t have time to can, simply cut out the blossom end and toss into a freezer bag.  When you need tomatoes for a recipe that calls for crushed tomatoes, place a few frozen tomatoes in a saucepan.  Add a bit of water and cook down.  Remove skin and pour thawed tomatoes into your chili or soup.  For more details, go to Quick Food Preservation Tips.

Small Garden Planning

Depending on the size of your garden space, you can stick with the 5 easy vegetables or add a few more favorites.  Understandably, a new garden will probably be one garden but I took the liberty of designing a two bed system.  Boards often come in 12′ lengths, so with 5-12′ boards, you can make 2 raised beds and only cut one of the boards.  One board can be cut in 3′ lengths for end pieces.  I have more tips for raised beds in the article Try Raised Beds For Easy Gardening.

A small garden plan.

Notice that I’ve made room for our 5 easy vegetables.  This space allows for a few extras.  Two zucchini plants and two cucumbers are planted at the base of each bed.  There is room for 6 tomato plants along with bush and pole beans.  Flowers such as marigolds can be planted for attracting pollinators and beneficial insects.  Try planting a few favorite herbs if you have the room.  Whatever you choose, start small.  You can always expand upon your garden next year.

Common marigold.

Some of you may be making a vegetable garden for the first time this year while others are looking to simplify their garden.  Of course, not everyone likes all of these vegetables.  Just swap out one for another.  Grow what you like.  If your plot is smaller, grow only two tomatoes and just grow the bush beans.  Play around with the dimensions on paper.

Spring officially begins next week.  I’m not sure if the weather will feel like spring though!  Keep on planning your garden, we will be there before you know it.  Here at Everlongardener, we are starting a few seeds and shoveling snow this week.  Thanks for reading this week and don’t forget to subscribe in sidebar for weekly blog posts.

Hilary|Everlongardener


Simple Roasted Vegetables

What’s one of the easiest, tastiest ways to enjoy eating your vegetables? Roasting them!  No matter what season it is, simple roasted vegetables are an excellent way to prepare an evening meal.  Roasting vegetables is one of the best ways to use up storage vegetables or just a way to clean out the crisper!

Roasted vegetables work so well as a side dish, a vegetarian meal or with meat added to the pan to create a one dish meal.  Try using chicken, pork or sausage made from chicken or pork.  Our favorite option uses local pork sausage mixed with as many veggies as we can fit on the pan.

Snip sausage with kitchen scissors.

Use a large cookie sheet or roasting pan.  I use my kitchen scissors to cut the sausage in 2″ pieces.

Chopped turnip and beets.

On to the vegetables!  A number of years ago, a friend mentioned that she had been just roasting veggies every night.  No matter what they were, she would simply cook them in the oven.  Broccoli was one veggie that she specifically mentioned.  I had always steamed broccoli.  After trying this method of cooking, I now roast broccoli whenever I can.  As you can see above, beets and turnip can be chopped uniformly to add to your pan.

Cauliflower and broccoli cook up nicely.

Cauliflower and broccoli cook up about the same when you roast them.  Broccoli tends to get a little singed on the edges.  Cauliflower is wonderful when roasted with garlic and then pureed to emulate mashed potato.  Just know that the garlic flavor is quite potent!

Parsnips and carrots have so much flavor.

What would this one pan dinner be without carrots and parsnips?  The sweet flavors are almost like eating candy.  This is one way to use up smaller homegrown carrots.  The ones that are a nuisance to deal with.  Give them a scrub, cut off the end and throw into the pan.  Sometimes our local farm stand has parsnips as big as your forearm.  It only takes one of these to make a meal special and give it that earthy, sweet parsnip taste.

Sweet potatoes are as sweet as can be!

Did I mention sweet potato?  Cut them into chunks or slice like in this photo.  They are fabulous.  It seems that when you roast vegetables, everything just goes together.

Brussel sprouts, mushrooms, cauliflower and beets, ready for the oven.

This past year, I started roasting brussel sprouts.  I’ve grown to love them in this way.  They are especially good with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  Don’t forget that you can use pieces of white potato, asparagus, green beans and bell peppers.  Winter squash wedges are really good too.

Onions are do sweet when roasted.

Onions turn into pure perfection when roasted with other vegetables.  Soft with crispy edges.

Try not to overcrowd the pan!

I literally throw this meal together.  It’s almost like a convenience food for me.  I simply chop, assemble and then we are about an hour away from an awesome meal.  In my oven, the roasted veggies come out best cooked for about an hour at 400 degrees F.  Before placing in the oven, drizzle or spritz with olive oil if desired.  If you are using sausage, go easy on the oil.  Toss in some garlic cloves and sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic powder or brown sugar.  Whatever you like.  Stir vegetables half way through cooking.

A delicious meal!

The resulting meal is so delicious and satisfying.  The flavors all blend together.  It may be simple to make roasted vegetables but the flavors are anything but.  I think that you should make it tonight!  If you have some vegetables in the fridge that are borderline or if some of your veggies stored from your fall harvest are looking sad, try this sumptuous one pan meal!  I hope that you will enjoy it as much as our family does!  Thanks for coming along this week as Everlongardener explores the simple art of roasting veggies!  Don’t forget to subscribe for free in the sidebar for my weekly garden related ramblings!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

No-dig Gardening

Before we get into what no-dig gardening means, let’s investigate the following scenario.  This coming spring, you hire someone to rototill your vegetable garden.  The soil is rich and brown.  A perfect blank canvas for this years garden!  But, in a matter of weeks, the inevitable happens.  Tiny weeds come growing in like a carpet.  What can be done? More tilling?  Hours of weeding?  These are some of the reasons why I’ve begun to investigate no-dig gardening!

I had heard about gardening without work years ago.  I even have Ruth Stouts book Gardening Without Work.  Her method involved mulching with old hay.  She had some fantastic ideas.  It’s worth looking up some of her old interviews.  After helping the local Seed Saving group mulch a garden in this way, I didn’t like the hay method because it seemed to harbored snakes. Not my thing!

A friend gave me Lee Reichs book Weedless Gardening.  His strategy calls for more mulching.  Definitely some great ideas for taking a lot of the backbreaking work out of growing vegetables.  I have even used grass clipping for moisture control.  But, I hear what you are saying, aching backs and worn out knees just go hand-in-hand with gardening.  Don’t worry, there is still much to do.  Just no digging!

Ready for next springs planting!

This spring, I was introduced to the term no-dig gardening.  I really didn’t understand because how do you have a garden if you can’t dig in the compost?  Or how do you harvest potatoes and parsnips?  I always thought that any ground good for planting had to be cultivated as far down as possible.  I had never subscribed to idea of double digging, too much work.  Then I began thinking about my own beds.  Raised beds that I occasionally top dressed with manure or compost.  Two of my beds were built on top of rocky ground.  With a cardboard layer spread out to squelch any grass beneath, layers of loam and compost made my two above ground beds.  So essentially, besides mixing in compost, I was doing a lot of the things recommended in a no-dig garden.

Salad greens.

As I became more interested in no-dig gardening, I decided to start reading a book by no-dig expert Charles Dowding, How To Create A New Vegetable Garden.  The book meticulously chronicles how to start beds without digging in at all.  Using layers of materials to achieve fertile planting ground for all sorts of flowers, herbs and vegetables.  Trial gardens demonstrate side by side comparisons of tilled gardens next to no-dig beds.  Amazingly there is little difference in productivity.  Vivid photos and commentary on how he transformed the abandoned gardens at his Somerset, England property called Homeacres.  Mr. Dowding came upon the idea many decades ago after tilling up a garden and then he was faced with a question:  Would he till it again next year?  What would happen if it was just mulched?  This was the start of the no-dig garden.  He has used this way of gardening at many properties.

One of the negatives of tilling is that the disturbed soil is a perfect place for weed seeds to germinate.  Tilling can also mix in weed roots and get them mixed deeper into your garden.   I tend to fight this no-dig gardening idea because nothing looks better than freshly cultivated soil.  But, I’m trying to rethink some of the traditional methods.  We are forced to think that if we want any productivity we must break our backs to get it.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty to do in the garden.  Yearly top dressing of aged manure, starting new beds, harvesting and watering.  The idea is that you don’t have to dig everything to get your garden to produce.  Have I lost you yet?

Raised Bed Gardens

If you already have raised bed gardens, no-dig is easy to incorporate.  Simply top-dress your garden beds every season with well aged manure or compost.  Most raised beds don’t need much cultivation anyway.  Any small amount of weeds can be removed while you are working.

Take the work out of gardening!

When plants are ready to be removed, a twist and pull action is recommended.  Most crops do not not need a shovel for harvest but a garden fork may be used for vegetables like parsnips.

Traditional Garden Beds

To create a new garden bed, blocking out grass and weeds is a top priority.  Boards, tarps or cardboard can be put down in advance to kill off vegetation.  When you are ready to start, add layers of cardboard and compost right on top of the ground.  If the garden has paths, use cardboard.  A thick layer of wood chips would be a great addition.

Perennial border.

Creating new flowers beds can be done in the same way.  Permanent flower gardens love yearly applications of compost.

Top dress beds with compost or manure yearly.

In The Greenhouse

You may want to consider using no-dig if you have a greenhouse.     There are enough new nutrients in the organic matter near the top of the soil where the crops need it most.  Such fertile gardens are a nice home for worms and beneficial insects.

Summer in the greenhouse!

Along with the book that I mentioned earlier, related reading includes Veg Journal and Salad Leaves For All Seasons.  Look up ‘no-dig’ on YouTube and you will find some excellent info to think about.

Some reading on the no-dig garden subject.

When I was in the Master Gardener course, the instructors where always talking about tilling being a necessary evil in the garden.  Chopping up worms and destroying soil structure.  Now I’m beginning to see how gardening can be done in a more natural way.  It just makes sense!

A bountiful harvest.

This may be a foreign way to garden for you.  I know at first I had trouble wrapping my mind around it.  There are many of you out there that I know struggle with getting your garden going and have a hard time producing vegetables.  Just consider what less work in the garden could mean for you and your subsequent harvest.  We all have different ways of gardening but we never stop learning!  I’m sure this is not the last you will hear about no-dig gardening.  Thanks for checking out Everlongardener this week!  Remember that you can subscribe for free in sidebar!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

Fall Garden Cleanup Tips

To clean up your garden beds or not to clean up?  Just ask anyone, you’ll get a different answer!  Believe it or not, fall garden cleanup can be a heated topic.  I’ve been surveying different people and there are some strong feelings out there!  Today, I’m going to lay out some practical tips for fall garden cleanup that will help you get a head start on next years garden.

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Perennial Gardens 

On both sides of the fall garden cleanup debate, there are solid pros and cons.  As a gardener for hire, I’ve always cleaned up customers gardens because it’s so hard to cut down all of the properties in the spring.  Fall cleanup does not eliminate spring cleanup.  But, it makes spring garden maintenance so much easier.  For my personal gardens, I have always done some cutting. There are just so many things to do at that time of year-getting veggie gardens planted, making customers gardens presentable and cleaning and edging my own beds.

It's a messy job!
It’s a messy job!

On the other side of the coin, leaving perennial gardens as they are through the winter can have some benefits.  Standing plants can provide food and shelter for birds.  Bees can have a continuous food supply until they are ready to go to sleep for winter.  Some tender plants are given a bit of extra protection from the debris left in the garden.  Gardens covered in plant matter are also excellent for preventing erosion.  Flower heads covered in snow or frost are gorgeous to look at and make spectacular photo ops!

Leaving flowers can provide food for the bees!
Leaving flowers can provide food for the bees!

In one of my clients gardens, I left the gaillardia.  It’s still blooming and I can leave it as long as I want.  As long as the weather stays mild, the flowers will slowly continue to bloom.

Many perennials still put out blossoms.
Many perennials still put out blossoms.

You may not want to leave any flower seed heads that will overtake your flower garden.  Any plants susceptible to powdery mildew or other pests should be removed from the garden.  This can be very important for organic growers who try to prevent problems before they happen.

November blooms!
November blooms!

If you do choose to cleanup, cover any sensitive planting with mulch, leaves or boughs.  This is very worthwhile if there is little or no snow cover like last year.

Fall is also a time when you can get some weeding done that may have been overlooked in very summer months.  I was listening to a podcast from A Way To Garden with Margaret Roach and Ken Druse.  I totally enjoyed their practical approach to fall garden cleanup.  One tip that they shared about fall weeding was that caution should be used because the soil gets disturbed and weed seeds can fall in the freshly cultivated dirt.  Ken was recommending cutting the seeds off of the weeds if you couldn’t do anything else.  His blog 7 Fall Cleanup Tasks You Shouldn’t Skip was filled with some great info.

A great chance to deal with weeds!
A great chance to deal with weeds!

Vegetable Gardens

I would say that most vegetable gardeners like to cleanup spent plants as soon as they are done.  Fall cleanup is so much easier than dealing with a bunch of dead, mushy plants in the spring.  What an advantage you will have if your veggie beds are ready to be planted as soon as the ground can be worked.  Crops such as carrots, beets and the like can be put in right away.

When you remove plants, you also have the opportunity to sow seeds for fall harvest as I have outlined in Plant Your Fall Garden Now and Fall Garden Harvest.  Succession planting can add tons of food to your table.

Dead flowers covered in ice, great photo op!
Dead flowers covered in ice, great photo op!

Some plants should be removed to prevent further diseases and pests.  In our area we deal with tomato blight.  Since this problem is airborne and spread through plant tissue, it is vital to get rid of any parts of the diseased plant or even the fruit.  We actually put our plants in the trash. If placed in the compost, they can just make the situation worse.  So, even though it pains me to send plant matter to the local dump, it is a must in this situation.

Any plants with heavy pests should be destroyed.  Don’t think that a killing frost or winter will do away with those pests!

Seed heads left in the garden create winter interest!
Seed heads left in the garden create winter interest!

Annuals

I would say that the majority of gardeners pull dead annuals out of pots and the ground in the fall.  There’s usually no hope of rejuvenating most annuals. Before I pull plants such as cosmos or calendula, I always collect or scatter seeds over the garden beds.  This way, there is a good chance of reseeding for next year.

Remove dead annuals.
Remove dead annuals.

Leaves

Most of the clients I’ve had over the years have had professional leaf removal.  I have always strictly concentrated on the flower beds.  Some say to leave the leaf litter to make a habitat for creatures.  Leaves do make a good mulch but they take years to decompose.  Since we live in the woods, it has been important to rake the leaves away from the house.  Too many ticks reside in these piles of leaves, mice too, for that matter.  We have had a bumper crop of acorns and leaves this fall.  In my opinion, if creatures need a habitat, they can live on the other 9 1/2 acres that we own!  This week, I was reading the Garden Rant blog and laughed out loud as I read their explanation of why you should get rid of leaves in your gardens.  Very realistic advice!

Coreopsis in the afternoon sun.
Coreopsis in the afternoon sun.

In the past, when I worked with a group of woman gardeners, we were taught immaculate gardening techniques.  We left nothing, not even footprints!  We worked at many public facilities and immense private properties.  Constant upkeep was vital for appearances and to keep our customers happy.  The home gardener has the choice of how far they will take their fall garden cleanup.  It is a satisfying feeling having the fall chores done, a warm fire crackling in the stove and snowflakes dropping out of the sky!

Still a few flowers left!
Still a few flowers left!

Feel free to weigh in (comment below) on the great fall cleanup debate! Remember that we all garden differently and have diverse backgrounds.  I’m so happy that you joined me this week here at Everlongardener!   You are welcome to subscribe in the sidebar for the weekly blog.  Join me on Instagram for daily gardening pictures!  Thank you for reading these fall garden cleanup tips!

Hilary|Everlongardener