This week I am prepping for the fall garden by pulling plants, adding compost and sowing seeds.
The way I decide what plants to “pull” is based on a few key factors. (By pulling plants I mean cutting them at the soil level and leaving the roots to decompose feeding the soil from below.) I look at how well the plant is doing. Does it look healthy and okay? Does it have pest pressure or disease? How old is the plant? Has it been growing well past it’s prime or is there still more time to harvest from it? What are my daylight hours and do they match with the plants needs? Am I over eating or harvesting this particular plant? Most plants have a peak period, where they will grow their best and offer harvests that are truly fantastic. After this time, they may begin to struggle or weaken and be susceptible to pest pressure or disease. Pulling plants can be one of the hardest things to do in a garden, especially when the plant still has ripening fruit. You have worked hard nurturing, watering and caring for it, so when it comes time to pull it, it can be very hard, but is worth it because you will be gaining space to add something new and fresh for the upcoming season or to finish out the season depending on what you replace it with. I always give thanks to my plants both as I sow the seeds or transplant seedling and when I pull them after they’ve given me their best. Having a gratitude practice like this help me feel more connected to nature, the garden and my food. I highly suggest giving it a try. This week I have pulled some kale plants, sunflowers and this weekend I have my eye on a few pepper plants and a tomato plant or two that are not faring well.
Now is the time to add a good layer of compost to your garden beds. I do this between each season and whenever I see that a plant may be struggling with pest pressure I side dress with compost. I like to use compost as my mulch instead of straw or another form of mulch. I have had great success with it so far. I have to mention that I also use intensive planting, so I don’t have a. Lot of exposed soil anywhere. I believe by using compost as mulch it helps lesson the pest burden in the garden. When we have mulch or straw, we are giving pests a place to hide that is close to our plants. Using compost as mulch is something I learned in the Kitchen Garden Academy training with Gardenary. I went through that program before becoming a Gardenary Certified Garden Coach and adopted many of the practices in addition to the way I had previously been gardening. Using compost in this way can be a hot topic in the gardening world, but for me my personal experience has been nothing but good. Adding compost between the seasons helps your soil have fresh nutrients to best support the new plants. It also helps add organic matter to the garden beds, which by the time the season is over, they seem to have sunk a few inches. When it comes to compost, you always want to make sure that it is finished. This means that it has properly cooled down from its high heat so it doesn’t burn your seedlings or seeds. While hot compost is making it can reach temperatures up to 120-170°F! Always get your compost from a trusted source and look for organic compost as much as possible.
Seeds I have already sown for fall include a lot of the same plants I grow in the spring. I recently purchased a GreenStalk garden tower to test out. I have sowed may seeds in it for fall in August. I keep it on the back porch and have moved my outdoor dining table that holds an umbrella next to it so that it will be shaded in the afternoon heat we continuously have. I have arugula, watermelon radish, various lettuces both loose leaf and heads, spinach, bok choy, daikon radish, kohlrabi, chard, various beets. I will also be sowing seeds for many of these that are quick growing in my garden beds this weekend in the spaces I cleared from pulling plants. When sowing fall seeds or adding transplants you want to think about how many days to your first frost, and most importantly your daylight hours. Our daylight hours start to shrink as we move closer to winter and the solstice. Once we reach less than 10 hours of daylight plants stop growing. This is called the Persephone Period/Days, a term coined by Elliot Coleman which is the days in your location where there are less than 10 hours of daylight in a day. It is important that your fall seedlings are well developed before your days shorten. Each day the light lessons, the less growth your plants will have. This is one reason why I have mentioned needing to start seedlings in the beginning to middle of august for fall, especially for things like broccoli or cauliflower or Brussels sprouts. Quick growing plants like beets will be fine, or lettuces that you’ll use as baby lettuce. Some things can be started in the fall and start to grow, go dormant day-urging the Persephone Period and start growing in the spring when daylight hours grow and the soil temperatures rise, this is called overwintering. I have successfully grown spinach, kale, chard, carrots and shockingly rosemary through the winter. I would cover them only when the temperatures were dropping well below freezing. I can dedicate a whole blog post to overwintering. For fall gardens make sure your temperatures and daylight match your plants needs. I use fleece row covers with my hoops when the temps start to drop for frost sensitive plants. I like to push things in my garden to see what can happen, like growing the rosemary outside through snow and freezing temps!
I have been quite busy in my garden this week and this weekend will be even more time spent making sure the fall garden is getting the care it needs. If you’d like to see more of these kinds of posts, let me know!