Small Space Gardening: Autumn Chores

Planting garlic, putting containers and beds to bed for the winter, fall begins September 22, crop rotation, seed saving, and postmortem list.

Small Space Gardening: Autumn Chores

Small Space Gardening by Diane Dryden is a series of garden articles that will run the entire summer with information for both new and experienced gardeners. Every two weeks the articles will update as the gardening year progresses; from picking out a site up to harvest in the fall.

WASHBURN COUNTY -- With Autumn putting in an official appearance on the 22 of this month, there are lots of chores in the garden. Whether your garden has been in the ground, raised beds, or containers, it's time to call it quits on the summer crops. The only crop that can still be planted this year is garlic.

If you have the space, I say, why not? Garlic does not overwinter well in containers, so you'll need to plant the crop in the ground. Anytime after the official autumnal equinox on the twenty-second will do. Garlic is sensitive to the day's length and matures during the longest days of summer. Fall planting gives it a jump start on the following year's growing season, and it will be one of the first things to come up.

It is extremely easy to grow, but soil prep is necessary for the best and biggest bulbs.

Garlic needs deeply cultivated, well-drained, rich soil with a neutral ph soil. Adding some compost or well-rotted manure to the bed is always a bonus.

Make sure to buy your heads from someone at the farmer's market and not the grocery store. Most of what you buy commercially has been treated so it lasts a long time. It also prevents germination. To be safe, buy local, organic stuff.

Separate the cloves no more than 48 hours before planting to keep them from drying. The largest cloves will produce the biggest bulbs. Plant the individual cloves, peels intact, pointy end up, 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Mulch with 5-8 inches of straw.

To ensure a good crop, fertilizing and watering is a must next year when they emerge from their winter's nap. An inch a week of water should do it.

The hard-neck variety is what grows best here in the north, and sometime around the summer solstice, your garlic will send up a seed stalk called a scape. These need to be cut off to encourage the plant to put their energy into forming bulbs.

These green scapes curl into a loop and are delicious when added to salads, stir-fries, soups, scrambled eggs, or anywhere you'd like a mild onion taste.

Leave one or two flower stalks standing to help you decide when to harvest the garlic. About four weeks before harvest, stop watering. It's usually July when this happens.

When the lower third to half of the leaves have turned brown in early August but, the upper leaves are still green, it's time to harvest. By keeping an eye on the two scapes you've left, when they uncurl and stand up straight, they are ready for harvesting.

Hang the garlic by bunches in a cool, well-ventilated shady spot for a month to cure. After the leaves, roots, and outer wrappers are completely dry, brush off any loose soil, trim the roots to ¼ inch, and cut the tops back to an inch or two above the bulb before storing for the winter. Save your biggest cloves for planting next year.

Saving the seeds from the biggest veg is a good idea, whatever it is. If you're a seed-saver, you already know how important plant genetics are. If it's pepper seeds, tomato seeds, or squash, pick one with all the characteristics you like, and save those seeds.

Whichever seeds you're saving, make sure they are thoroughly dried before you package them for their own winter naps. There's nothing worse than pulling them out in the spring and seeing them all moldy.

Speaking of moldy, if you're looking to save unripened tomatoes, either wrap them individually in newspaper or hang the entire plant upside down somewhere out of the cold.

Crop rotation is just another thing to consider for next year. You should not plant the same crop year after year in the same soil due to left-over pathogens. Besides, there's a method in crop rotation that just makes sense. Take corn, for instance. It depletes the soil of nitrogen. Beans add nitrogen to the soil, so it makes sense to plant beans where corn has been the year before.

If you'd like to give your in-ground garden soil, or your raised beds a real boost, fall is the ideal time to plant a cover crop that acts as green manure. In other words, it's a specific crop that's planted in the fall that is grown and then uprooted and dug into the soil, enhancing the fertility of the soil. Unless you do this periodically, your soil grows weary and soon is not as productive as it once was. This is a simple way to grow more good soil.

Cover crops allow the nutrients held in the green manure to be released and made available to succeeding crops. This results immediately form an increase in the abundance of soil microorganisms from the degradation of plant materials that aid in the decomposition of this fresh material. Green manure is a crop specifically produced to be incorporated into the soil while it's still green.  

We buy winter rye seeds from our local feed store. We sow it as soon as the beds are devoid of any crop onto all our beds and allowed to grow until after the first hard frost. We then use the rototiller to incorporate the crop into the soil. Not only does it add nutrients, but it also makes the soil looser and loamier.  

Before the seed catalogs start arriving, it never hurts to have a tentative plot plan drawn out for 2023. Decide what did well this year and determine if it's something you'd like more of next year.

This year we grew several types of dried beans. The pintos were climbers, and the black turtle beans were of the bush variety. Both were abundant, and seeing we now have a gallon of each, we will grow less if we grow them again next year. How many meals of pork and beans can you eat anyway?

We already know we'll be planting more potatoes in empty cat food bags and planting considerably less zucchini. Our spring bulbs will go in on October 11, thanks to the Farmer's Almanac's timetable, and the garlic will be planted, and heavily mulched on the same day.

Until then, it's waiting for the Indian corn to dry, plant the cover crop, continue to dry tomato, pepper, and bean seeds for next year.

It's also time to empty or cover the containers we used for growing tomatoes. There's nothing worse than having the containers fill with rain or wet snow on top of the soil, and then have a freeze. The water expands as it freezes resulting in the container splitting and becoming ruined.

I hope you've had a successful year with your gardens, large or small, and are enthusiastic about doing it again next year. Thanks to all of you who shared their gardens with us. You've all been an inspiration to me, as I hope I have been to others.

Previous Small Space Gardening Articles:

  1. Sun Patterns And Soil Types
  2. How To Read Seed Catalogs, Packets And Difference Between Perennials And Annuals
  3. Plot Planning, Bulb Starting, Crop Rotation, And Saving Toilet Paper Tubes
  4. Seed Starting Using Grow Lights, Heat Pads, And Toilet Paper Tubes
  5. Seed Starting, Determining How Much Of Each You'll Need, Soil Types
  6. Growing Herbs And Starting Potatoes
  7. Early Crops, Container Tips, And Creating A Successful Compost Pile
  8. 3 Sisters, Watching The Moon, And Finally, Planting Your Garden
  9. Garden Update, Berry Bugs, Annuals Vs. Perennials, And Trees
  10. Ponds And Water Features, Wild Flowers, And Garden Update
  11. Blight, Mildew, And Mulch. No, They're Not Lawyers, But Just As Intrusive
  12. Second Cropping, Seed Saving, A Garden Visit, And A Few Summer Recipes
  13. A Garden Visit, Drying Herbs, Carrots No-No's, Chocolate Zucchini Bread, Pruning Tomatoes And Say Good Bye To Wasps
  14. Another Garden Visit, Harvesting Beets, Potatoes, And Nadapeno Peppers
  15. Harvest Moon, Crop Rotation, Pruning Tomatoes, Preparing Containers For Winter, And A Gardener Interview

Last Update: Sep 19, 2022 7:17 am CDT

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