All planting in the unprotected garden is over for this year except radishes until Sept. 15.
Unless you are planting in a cold frame, low tunnel or greenhouse, statistically speaking, even the veggies with the shortest plant-to-harvest time have no chance to make it before frost or freezing weather sets in.
The first day of fall is just more than two weeks away — Sept. 23, 3:50 a.m. with the Autumnal Equinox. Summer went by quickly, didn’t it?
Cleaning up your garden
Whether you raised a half-acre or a few tomato plants in a pot, as the growing season winds down it’s important to clean up what’s left of this year’s garden. And, while we’re still harvesting, it’s not too early to decide what you plan when the last tomato is picked, and old Jack Frost paints the mornings white.
Option 1: This is, quite obviously, the easiest — and, as many things are — along with being the easiest it is the least desirable for your ongoing effort next year. Simply put, just leave all your spent plants right where they are now and let the tomato plants, tethered to their stakes, flap about in the winter wind and other veggies just dry up on the ground where they grew and produced.
I know you’re tired of fooling with the garden now, I am too. But by leaving plants that have done what they came to do and have now passed on gives insects and diseases the perfect place to overwinter and be all set to re-emerge next spring. Let’s respect their contribution even at the end.
And, if you’re going to garden in the same place next year, you will need to remove the plants, so you might as well do it now while the weather is at least moderate and not wait until spring when the ground is wet and it’s cold and clammy outside.
Option 2: Grind up the plants and turn, plow or roto-till them under to provide a little “green food” for next spring.
That really sounds like a good, environmentally-sound method, but there’s a good chance diseases and eggs laid by the bugs will just ride along for the trip underground, rest up and be ready to jump right up from their naps and go to work in the spring.
Option 3: Get the plants off the garden by pulling them up and physically removing them from the site. Obviously, this is the most labor-intensive one, but it also ensures that the bugs will get away from where they thrived before.
If you have a grinder — owned, borrowed or rented — the plants can be ground up and placed in a compost heap where the heat of decomposition will “cook” the disease spores, bugs and bug eggs. Then you can safely utilize the compost.
This differs from option 2 because of the inevitable heat of decomposition that’s not present even if the plants are underground since it’s winter.
Now as Captain Hook said to the boys in the classic “Peter Pan” when they were given the option of joining the pirate crew or walking the gang plank: “The choice is up to you!”
And so, it is with you and your garden-ending clean up.
Planting a ground cover
If you selected either option 2 or 3 above, then you can further enhance your garden’s fertility by planting a ground cover after the ground is lightly roto-tilled or broken up with a garden or field tractor-drawn disc harrow. It doesn’t have to be “deep plowed.”
You see farmers do this all the time, and they count on the ground for their livelihood. After the crop — whatever it may be — is harvested, they plant a quick-growing grass that’s up with the first rain and protects the ground from erosion, etc.
To make your gardening experience complete, you can do that, too. Once the plants are removed, simply break up the soil for good seed-to-soil contact, plant the seeds and you’re done.
In addition to quick-growing field grasses you may plant turnips — then you can harvest the greens and/or the turnips.
When plowing time comes in January and February, till or plow the cover crop under and it will provide loads of natural fertilizer — especially nitrogen — to enhance your going experience next year.