From the crisp mornings and yellowing leaves to football games and the start of another school year, there’s no denying that fall is in the air. While fall induces thoughts of warm apple pie, tailgate parties, and hot cocoa, it’s also a very important time for gardeners who are ending another successful growing season. The same tender love and care that you have given your garden throughout the spring and summer months must be shown just as equally as the plants finish producing fruits and vegetables in the fall. Here are a few tips for making the transition as fruitful and efficient as possible.
1. Do: Know Your Plants
As your months (or years) of gardening have taught you, each plant, vegetable, and fruit has different qualities. Growth time and ripening rules are included in this truth. It is important to know when your produce is ripe and ready for the picking, and if you’re new harvesting, this can be tricky with some plants. Growing season guides  can give you an indication of when your plants will be ready to harvest.
Don’t: Be Over-Eager
After a season filled with dedicated nurturing of your garden, harvesting time is exciting and purposeful. I find it hard to keep myself in check during this time, eager to gather my garden goodies, but it’s important to do so. If you pick your produce too soon (or too late), it will impact the quality of the food, or worse, ruin it altogether. Know the signs  of a ripe fruit or vegetable, and patiently wait for it to that point before harvesting.
2. Do: Use Season Extensions
Products such as mulch or row covers  are terrific resources for stretching the growing season to its maximum potential. Both of these tools will protect your plants from light frosts, and for some plants, it will keep them producing until the ground freezes.
Don’t: Ignore Damaged Plants
If your plants have been damaged from frost or bugs, it’s important to dispose of them immediately. While frost-damaged plants can be added to compost piles, bug or disease-damaged plants should be pulled from the ground, wrapped in plastic, and disposed of separately to avoid transferring the problem to other plants.
3. Do: Remember to Plant
All of your fall starters should be planted at this time. Remember to plant your rhubarb roots! In the rest of your yard, don’t forget those perennials.
Don’t: Forget to Insulate with Mulch
4. Do: Pot Herbs
Your herbs can survive the winter comfortably from your home. When putting your garden to bed for the winter, pot your herb plants. Place these pots in a sunny, warm window.
Don’t: Bring the Pots in Immediately
While you don’t want your herb plants to experience a freeze, it’s more than okay to keep the potted plants outside until the first frost. This gives them every possible opportunity for direct sunlight and fresh air prior to moving indoors for winter.
5. Do: Rebuild and Structure
Now is the perfect time to incorporate those architectural changes you want to make. I love to look at this as my first true effort at next year’s garden. Spend some time rebuilding beds or constructing box frames to prepare for the next season. Upturn soil to aerate and expose to the coming cold.
All fertilizers should be administered in the springtime, prior to planting your next season’s crops.
6. Do: Trim Growth
Trim away grass and other vegetation from your garden beds. This helps reduce the spread of weeds while giving your garden a tidy and “put together” appearance for the winter months.
Don’t: Dispose Trimmings
Do not dispose of any grass or vegetation clippings. As long as these plants are disease and bug-free, they can be used to create compost for the coming gardening season.
7. Do: Test Your Soil
This may sound like an intimidating feat to a novice gardener, but soil testing is simple and can be done with household items. The pH (acidity) level in your soil is vital to how efficiently your plants grow and produce fruits and veggies. Most plants thrive in a 6.5 pH soil, which is slightly acidic. Soil testing kits are available for purchase, or alternatively, you can use the good old baking soda and vinegar trick. Drop a few tablespoons of vinegar onto your soil. If it fizzles, your soil is alkaline. Conversely, if you drop a few tablespoons of baking soda onto your soil and it fizzles, your soil is acidic.
Don’t: Ignore the Results
Limestone is often used to “sweeten the soil,” or reduce the acidity of the dirt. Once you know the pH level of your soil as well as your soil type, you can calculate  how much lime you will need to add to your garden to create an ideal leaving space for your plants.
8. Do: Use Plant Remnants
The plant remnants left behind after harvesting, along with fallen tree leaves and other organic material, are perfect for building your own compost pile. Creating your own compost saves you the cost of purchasing it, plus, it’s a fantastic and natural process that is healthy for your soil, plants, and yard!
Don’t: Play the Guessing Game
If you’re new to composting, it is essential to do your research  prior to beginning. While this process is great for the environment and its very own form of natural recycling, it has potential to be dangerous or ineffective if done incorrectly. Be sure to create a compost pile in a safe and responsible way.
9. Do: Clean Up
Fall cleanup in your yard and garden not only looks great, but it’s also a fantastic start for the next season and one less thing you’ll have to do when the snow melts. Remove any remaining weeds or unwanted components, rake thoroughly, and allow yourself to bask in the satisfaction of a productive, fruitful season.
Don’t: Make It Perfect
I love things that can be left messy, and this instance, messy is better. Be sure to turn up all of your soil and leave it rumpled. This will aerate the ground and expose any disease or bugs to the cold air. Many of these nuisances can be eliminated from your yard and garden by using this simple step.
10. Do: Use Mulch
Use a thick layer of winter mulch throughout your entire garden, covering each bed in several inches. This will return much-needed nutrients into the ground and prepare the soil for the spring planting.
Don’t: Mulch Before Frost
Mulching before the ground is frozen can invite unwanted critters into your yard and garden. Rodents looking to nest for the winter will find your mulch layers warm and inviting.
After you’ve given your garden it’s fall pampering, your gardening season is complete. With your months of hard work paid in delicious and fresh fruit and veggies, you’ve earned a moment to bask in your success. Step back and appreciate your achievement. Enjoy the fruits of your labor and look forward to spring, with the promise of another great growing season just around the corner.
©2012 Off the Grid News