When harvesting has emptied vegetable beds and containers, it's time to figure out ways to ensure good crops next year. Sometimes this involves fall planting.
Late September and early October is the ideal time to plant garlic and shallots. In fall, they still have time to make masses of roots before cold and frost shuts down active growth.
Winter rye can also be planted. It's a grass which grows well in cool weather but needs to be cut down to the ground in spring and the top growth composted before it seeds. The glory of this grass is the way it improves soil structure with masses of fine roots. These break up the soil and quickly decompose when they're dug in.
Optimistic people who love salads could try planting leafy salad crops now (arugula, corn salad, mustard) because a warm, moist fall could give them some deliciously young, fresh leaves. At this time of year, containers are excellent for this venture, especially if they can be moved into sheltered places and protected with copper tape to deter slugs.
It's a few weeks yet to leaffall but raked leaves make a good, airy mulch for garlic
and shallots and are useful to stop soil compaction on vacant beds where there's no cover crop. Leaves tend to blow around when dry, but can be held down with branches from pruning or wire netting.
Wire is useful stuff for vegetables, especially the stiffer type stucco wire. Besides holding down mulch, it can support vining pea plants in spring and also cover seedlings from invasions by dogs, cats and family members. Storage can be an issue, but once the wire is stomped flat, it takes up almost no space hanging on the back wall of a garden shed or possibly a secluded fence.
It's often more convenient to leave some root vegetables like beets, carrots, leeks and potatoes in the garden until they can be used. Leaves and cut-up stems of corn make a great, airy mulch which can keep storage crops frost-free but gives access right through frosts.
Garden storage for root vegetables is double-edged, though, because rows of veggies are an easy-access pantry for voles who make tunnels right under the relevant rows. Grasses aren't good cover at all for winter crop storage since they pack down wet, solid and moldy.
But grass clippings are a good cover for empty vegetable beds since they are wind-resistant and contribute some nitrogen into the soil as they decay. Birds love scratching in them because earthworms love them and by spring have reared masses of babies. Unfortunately, slugs lay many eggs under grass clippings.
So in spring those grass clippings need to be laid upside down where the vulnerable baby slugs can be exposed to birds. Later the clippings make good, moist layers in compost.
Correction In answering a question on figs the week before last, I used a wrong term. It's actually the first crop of figs that's called the 'breba' crop. Thanks to Burnaby reader Sean for setting me straight on that.
. Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to her via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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