As the temperatures begin to drop you may be tempted to harvest the last of your tomatoes and abandon your garden until next March or April.
Don’t do that.
Clearing away old fruit, raking leaves, mulching and a few other steps can help you winter-prep your garden and get a head start on the next growing season:
After your last harvest be sure to clear away any fallen fruit to help prevent stem rot or diseases from spreading. While you’re at it, pull up and compost any annuals you may have: tomatoes, peppers, etc. This will also help discourage disease and pests.
Early Fall is also the perfect time to plant garlic for harvesting next year. Just take several heads of garlic, split them open, and plant the garlic about an inch under the soil, tip pointed up.
As you clean up your garden don’t forget to put the leaves you gather into the compost. Tree leaves in particular are rich in trace minerals and help add some carbon to the compost pile.
If you’re in the northern parts of the country and have already seen freezing temperatures or even snow (looking at you Northeastern Washington), be sure to drain your hoses and pick them up off of the ground so that they don’t freeze and burst. The same goes for your lawn’s sprinkler system if you have one.
As cold weather sets in, many plants will begin to go dormant for the winter. To ensure that they survive the cold months and come back as healthy as possible, consider spreading some mulch around. You can buy mulch or you could use the leaves from that shade tree in your front yard (needles and small boughs count too!). The mulch helps ensure that the ground stays at an even temperature.
An alternative to mulching is planting a cover crop. Cover crops (also called “green manure”) grow during the winter and help provide nutrition for the soil, suppress weeds, ward off pests (they aren’t very tasty plants) and can even prevent soil erosion. Good winter cover crops include buckwheat, clover (though you may have to mow it to keep it in check) and rye.
Cover crops are also very easy to take care of—just let them grow. Usually there is no need to water or tend to them much. Come early spring, before they go to seed, you can cut them down and till them into your soil to decompose and add nutrients.
And don’t forget that it may not be too late to actually plant a winter garden. If you live in an area that doesn’t freeze until late in the winter (the Southwest, for example) you may still have time to plant crops like kale, brussel sprouts, cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli.
In the meantime, enjoy the last few warm days that October brings and it’s never to early to start planning next year’s garden.
Darla Antoine is an enrolled member of the Okanagan Indian Band in British Columbia and grew up in Eastern Washington State. For three years, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the Midwest, reporting on issues relevant to the Native and Hispanic communities, and most recently served as a producer for Native America Calling. In 2011, she moved to Costa Rica, where she currently lives with her husband and their infant son. She lives on an organic and sustainable farm in the “cloud forest”—the highlands of Costa Rica, 9,000 feet above sea level. Due to the high elevation, the conditions for farming and gardening are similar to that of the Pacific Northwest—cold and rainy for most of the year with a short growing season. Antoine has an herb garden, green house, a beehive, cows, a goat, and two trout ponds stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout.