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Forget Spring Cleaning: Fall Chores for a Great Garden Next Year

We have now passed the mid-point of October. With the arrival of October 19, only 73 days remain before your 2011 calendar becomes obsolete. While I’ll still be growing broccoli, collards, carrots, and some other hardy crops for a few more months here in North Carolina, most of my friends up north are preparing to shut things down for the season.

With that in mind, I thought today might be a good time to mention a few things you can accomplish around this time of year to make your time in the garden a whole lot more pleasant when the warm and welcome breezes of spring chase away the gloom of the long winter months.

One of the first tasks I perform before cleaning out a spot in my survival garden is making a chart in my handy pocket notebook. I write down the location of each vegetable I’ve grown this year. This info will be very important when you start plotting out next year’s garden. Knowing what you’ve planted in what spot is an essential part of proper crop rotation. If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to be relying on your memory. Take some time to put pen to paper, and you’ll save yourself a whole lot of head scratching later.

When the first solid frost hits your garden, it is time to pull up your dead plants and clean up the space. I like to feed the dead plants to my compost pile, but I recommend a bit of caution. Adding diseased plants to your compost is just asking for trouble in the future. Check each plant carefully for signs of disease and throw the bad ones in a trash bag. When in doubt, trash it or burn it; the heat generated by your compost pile just isn’t enough to kill some of the nastiest plant diseases, and you don’t want to invite them to play in your garden next year.

This is also a good time to invest some energy in getting rid of the weeds that may have crept into your garden space during the growing season. Give the soil a good soaking, and you’ll be able to pull up many of your toughest weeds. As much as you may hate them, try to use a steady, gentle pull when bringing them up. This will cut down on the number of dormant weed seeds, which will, of course, cut down on the number of weeds you’ll have to battle next summer.

Make sure you clean up all the remnants of this year’s crop and any other plant debris from your weeded spot. Getting this space as clean as possible has several advantages; you’ll not only eliminate the food supply for some of the most persistent garden pests, but you’ll also keep any potential diseases from spreading. Yes, it is a bit of extra work, but the work you do now will help keep your garden and future produce healthier and more vibrant. Just remember to bend your knees rather than bending your back, and you’ll avoid some of the aches and pains this task usually brings to old codgers like me.

After weeding and cleaning, I usually like to turn the soil a bit and mix in some Protogrow to refresh the nutrients. If that patch of ground would otherwise be bare for several months, this might also be a good time to consider planting a cover crop of oats or rye. After the snow melts, you can hoe these plants into the ground, where they’ll provide a bit of additional nutrition for next year’s veggies. This combination of natural fertilizers will help your garden get a good running start when it is time to start planting again.

Before Old Man Winter stomps into your neighborhood with his mixed bag of frozen tricks, you’d be well advised to empty your hoses, fountains, or any drip irrigation system you might have devised. You might also want to check your garden for any containers that might freeze or crack and get them inside before they get buried under layers of ice and snow; as the old saying goes, better safe than sorry.

Looking back on everything I’ve scribbled in this column, it seems like I’ve put a lot of work on your plate. So, before I head off to enjoy another beautiful autumn day here in the sunny South, I just want to remind you take some time to enjoy the crisp air and wonderful scents of this special time of year. Don’t let your garden become a chore. In survival gardening, a slow and steady pace often wins the race. Don’t try to get everything done in one big gulp; stop and savor the pleasures of being outdoors preparing your garden to grow another healthy crop to feed you and your family. Oh, and don’t forget to smile. I don’t know whether it will make your plants grow any better, but it certainly will make your tasks easier.

Until next time, I hope you and yours have pleasant, prosperous, and relaxing times in your survival garden.

©2011 Off the Grid News

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