By Larraine Roulston:
Autumn is a delightful time to enjoy your garden. During the cold weather, your compost heap will not decompose as quickly, so you may find your composter has become too full for you to continue adding organics during the winter. If that is the case, then before the frost, you will have to remove your composter from the heap. After you have wiggled it free, set it in a convenient location and add a little brush on the base to provide airflow. With a good supply of brown leaves to supply the carbon, you are set to compost all winter long. Next, topple over the existing heap and mix in fall leaves, top with more leaves and cover with a dark tarp or plastic to capture the sun’s rays. Come spring, it should be ready to dig into your garden.
As well, with falling leaves you can improve your garden’s soil by building your own leaf mold. This dark crumbly finished mold is a great soil conditioner. If droughts are the way of the future, it will be crucial to start increasing the moisture retention of soil. Rake leaves into a pile in a corner of your garden. Once gathered, wet them down to keep the leaves moist for the next six months or longer. Make your pile at least three feet wide or as large as possible to speed up decomposition. By shredding the leaves, they will decompose faster. In about six months, your mold should be ready to mix into your soil or into your contained gardening soil mix.
If you are looking to extend your vegetable growing season, choose seeds that will be ready to harvest quickly and will grow well in cooler weather with shorter sunlight hours. First, find a guide for your region’s expected frost date and check your seed packets for “days to maturity.”
Maine organic farmer, author and agricultural researcher Eliot Coleman has taught himself how to grow food during his northeast coastal winters. Coleman and his wife, gardening author Barbara Damrosch, operate Four Season Farm, producing hardy plants such as carrots, potatoes and various greens. You can see their online video about how to build unheated greenhouses for winter harvests and year-round gardening.
Autumn is also the time to plant garlic bulbs as well as tulip and daffodil bulbs as well as other perennials. Beautiful flowering mums in a container can be planted and most likely will return for another season or two. You can cut back raspberry and blackberry bushes to provide a better crop for the following year. Trees and shrubs plant well in the autumn and you should receive a discount of 50-70% off the regular price, as nurseries will be anxious to deplete their summer stock. Trees not only provide shade but also will help you save on energy bills. Be sure to water newly added plants as generously as you would in the spring.
This fall, check out “6 Steps for Planning Next Year’s Garden.” You will see how to map out a gardening plan, assess your conditions and note your harvest times to help you grow a healthier, more productive garden next year.
Larraine Roulston authors the Pee Wee Castle Compost series at www.castlecompost.com