Sept. 14, 2016
Prepare Your Garden for Winter Already?
By Gini Bramlett
For the Calapooia Food Alliance
I know it seems ridiculously early to be thinking about winter, especially when it comes to getting the garden ready, but have you noticed how the air feels like October when it’s barely mid September?
Well, you wouldn’t be the only one to notice that the nights are cooling, the leaves are falling and many vegetables and flowers are on their proverbial last legs, nearly a month earlier than normal.
This phenomenon can be attributed to our unusually dry, warm spring – which we gardeners relished – when strawberries ripened in May and roses began blooming well before June. And, along with our long, brutally hot summer, our gardens are just about ready to call it quits.
Granted, some flowers and vegetables can handle light frosts, so should be left to their own devices, but much needs to be done to prepare our soil and our more tender plants to withstand the cold, wet winter weather.
One of the first things I do is remove all spent materials. That would include both veggies and flowers that have finished blooming for the season. Pull the spent basil, lettuce, zinnias and other annuals, that have gone to seed (save the seed for next year), and cut back the leggy rose limbs to prevent winter winds from breaking them off. It’s important to remove dead plant material. Insects tend to winter over in dead and dying materials which can in turn, damage your plants and possibly cause infestations.
Soon, spent perennials will need to be cut back to a few inches above ground. Some gardeners prefer leaving their dead perennials for the birds to have a safe haven, and that’s OK too. Just cut them back in early spring.
Another thing I do now in my vegetable garden is pinch (read brutally chop) the tops off indeterminate tomato plants, and cut back winter squash and melon vines. Both will continue putting on new leaves until frost, and subsequently try to produce more fruit taking that energy away from ripening what’s already there. Small, green butternut squash and tiny green tomatoes won’t ripen before winter sets in, so you might as well sacrifice them so your larger fruits have a chance to ripen before the first freeze.
After digging potatoes or pulling spent plants, cover the bare soil with a mulch of some kind. Many materials work well, such as dead leaves, straw or even a cover crop such as alfalfa or an annual rye grain to help prevent weeds from growing during the winter and slow nutrient leeching.
Let’s talk about perennials. If some of your perennials are more than three years old, it may be time to divide them. It’s also time to think about what bulbs you’d like to see blooming in your yard next spring. Some have pretty clear time frames, and others, like daffodils are not too fussy about when they go in the ground.
Stores and garden centers are loaded with spring bloomers right now, so plant away.
And, let’s not overlook the possibility of planting veggies for a fall and winter garden. Carrots started now will gain enough growth to survive through the winter, then continue growth in spring for an early crop. Lettuce planted now can be harvested through the fall until the first frost (or cover with plastic when frost threatens to extend your lettuce production even longer).
You can also plant broccoli, cauliflower and others in the cabbage family if you can find plants. Row covers and greenhouses are useful for winter gardening, too. If a cold snap threatens, cover the row, then remove when the temperatures warm again.
There are a myriad of books available and loads of information online and on OSU Extension’s website about what to do in the fall garden. What I’ve shared are just some of the fall chores for our locale. Getting the garden in shape in fall makes spring chores and planting a lot easier.
Brownsville Thursday Market
The Brownsville Thursday Market is open from 3-6 pm. and is located on the corner of Main and Park streets. The season will soon come to an end, so if it’s vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh beets and carrots, peppers, squash or sweet corn you want, now is the time to come and shop our local Thursday market.
The market also offers local honey, farm fresh eggs, locally-produced berry jams and jellies, homemade pastas, locally-made bar and laundry soaps, as well as various baked items.
Come and see us this week!