The Island Garden
In a few weeks we will see frost and the growing season will be over. Plants that are still in the ground can be harvested until the ground freezes, but tender plants such as tomatoes and peppers will have turned to mush.
Now is the time to clean up, to take stock, to decide what worked and what didn’t work. It’s time to mulch garden beds and plant ground covers for the winter to come.
The season was not that great this year. Tender plants like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants got off to a late start due to the heavy rains in the spring. Then they wilted under the heat wave in mid-June and were deluged with rain again. It wasn’t a typical summer, and not one that yielded great results.
In my garden, the outdoor tomatoes were mealy and not really good, but the ones grown on straw bales in the greenhouse set fruit in May and we had red tomatoes by June 7. Since then, the plants have been producing regularly and we’ve seen a glut of late. Eggplants and peppers in the greenhouse produced good crops, but outside they were nothing special.
That’s the beauty of gardening: You never know whether you’ll have a bumper year or a disaster. Last year Hurricane Sandy took a toll on the garden early, so that’s two years of not-so-good crops. Maybe next year will be better.
Planning for 2014 begins now with a map of this year’s garden. Drawing a map makes it easy to rotate crops. You know where corn (heavy feeder) was grown and can plant beans there next season to increase the nitrogen in the soil. Next year you can put cabbage (heavy feeder) in the spot where you had beans this year. Rotating crops keeps pests at bay. It also helps soil recover from plants that suck a lot of nutrients out of it.
The second stage is to preserve those nutrients in the soil. You can do this by mulching heavily or by sowing cover crops such as winter rye grass. Jamestown Hardware has had winter rye for a while, but you need to get it into the ground fast.
This time of year you should overseed it a little to get good coverage. The ground is cooling somewhat and it will germinate as long as it has moisture, but if you leave it until frost, it will take a long time to germinate and your soil will suffer.
If you use mulch on your garden beds, you will need to remember to add high nitrogen blood meal or a fertilizer with a high-nitrogen content in spring. As mulch rots it absorbs nitrogen from the soil that will need to be replaced, especially if you plan to grow green crops on that patch.
If you do not want to do either, cover the garden patch with a clear plastic sheet. It will prevent the rain from leaching nutrients from the soil, and, as an added benefit, it will heat up on sunny days and cook weed seeds on the surface of the soil. You will have to remove the plastic in the spring to allow the soil to get soaked by spring rains, but it should be cleaned of weeds unless you dig it over and expose more weed seeds.
Another job you should do is to deadhead old perennial flowers. By eliminating the flower heads, you prevent the plant from putting nutrients into developing seeds. If it doesn’t have to make seeds, the plant will put more vigor into growing stronger roots and will give you a better display next season.
Put all the plant debris into your compost pile and let it rot down. It will become compost that you can use on your garden next season. You can also make a pile of leaves in a corner of the garden. In a few years the leaves will rot down to make leaf mold. Leaf mold is great to use as compost and does not add weeds seeds.
So this year, instead of sending your leaves to the dump, recycle them and give the mold to your plants. They’ll thank you for it.