“Old Man Winter” Pays an Early Visit

The “Killing” frost arrived two weeks early this year.  That put me into panic mode, harvesting the very last tomatoes, peppers and eggplants as well as fennel, early carrots, beets, radishes  and raspberries.  I also put up two low tunnels to protect some tender greens and the last planting of carrots.  Now that the first frost is past, it’s time to tackle the end of season “to do” list.

THE LOW TUNNEL THAT CONTAINS OUR LATE SEASON LEAF CROPS INCLUDING NEWLY PLANTED MACHE AND "RED kITTEN" SPINACH

THE LOW TUNNEL THAT CONTAINS OUR LATE SEASON LEAF CROPS INCLUDING NEWLY PLANTED MACHE AND “RED kITTEN” SPINACH

 

 

The End of Season “To Do” List

Take down the last tomato supports
Sanitize the tomato beds with copper fungicide
Add soil Amendments to last season’s legume beds
Plant the garlic, surround it with a fence and fill with leaves
Plant Mache in one of the low tunnels
Plant “Red Kitten” spinach in one of the low tunnels
Prune, fertilize and support Brussels Sprouts
Pull the zinnia plants and compost
Prune old raspberry canes.
Finish cleaning up the garden

Sanitizing the Tomato Beds

After taking down the last of the tomato trellises and rolling up the “agricultural cloth” carpets that I use to hold moisture and suppress weeds, I sprayed all of the beds where I grew tomatoes this season with copper fungicide.  Hopefully, this kills enough of the early blight spores so that they won’t migrate to adjoining plant beds.  I’ve been fighting blight since 2006 and try to give myself every advantage.  This end of season treatment is one of my rituals.

Time to Show the Brussels Sprouts Some Love

I’ve been ignoring the Brussels Sprouts a good bit until now.  Since the “killing frost”, I have begun pruning, fertilizing, supporting and harvesting my “Sprouts”.  We wait until after the first frost to harvest because the frost changes the chemistry in the plants enough to moderate the bitterness.  Brussels Sprouts have become one of our primary late fall crops in recent years.  We like to feature them at Thanksgiving and Christmas as well as the occasional weeknight meal.

THE BRUSSELS SPROUTS PATCH

THE BRUSSELS SPROUTS PATCH

I drove a heavy duty stake into the ground for each plant, tied each off in a couple of places, pulled off the lower leaves and harvested some Sprouts from the bottom of the plant.  In a week or so, I will cut the growing tip off the top of half the plants to encourage more Sprouts to plump up to harvest size in time for Thanksgiving dinner.  At Thanksgiving, I will top off the rest of the crop to encourage maximum harvest for Christmas dinner.  I love Brussels Sprouts because they extend the growing season.  There is something quite satisfying about trekking out to the Garden on a cold Winter’s day and returning with a bowl full of fresh Brussels Sprouts.  It makes the day a bit more special.

I also fertilized the plants with some Neptune’s Harvest 2-3-1 fertilizer.  I will try to get out there once a week to feed the plants until Thanksgiving.

Planting Mache and “Red Kitten” Spinach

Another one of my end of season rituals is to plant my mache seeds for harvest in early March.  For some reason, this veggie actually thrives in cold weather.  I densely seed a 4′ x 3′ rectangle in one bed that I cover with a low plastic tunnel for the Winter.  I will water it regularly until Thanksgiving and then leave it alone to do it’s thing over the long Winter.  It is such a welcome sight to pull up the side of the tunnel in early March and be greeted with a lush emerald carpet of Mache.  This strategy is an easy way to get an early start to the growing season ahead.  This will be my fifth year of planting Mache in October.

MACHE AS IT LOOKED IN EARLY APRIL

MACHE AS IT LOOKED IN EARLY APRIL

Last season, I planted some “Red Kitten” spinach to fill a void in my low tunnel.  I have to admit that I had low expectations.  What a surprise to find that the spinach had actually survived the worst winter in my lifetime.  Once the weather began to moderate toward the end of March, the spinach filled out quite nicely and we enjoyed about three weeks of daily harvests.  This is another highly recommended crop for any of you wishing to extend your growing season.  I purchased my seeds at “Johnny’s Selected Seeds.”.

RED KITTEN SPINACH IN THE GARDEN IN EARLY MARCH

RED KITTEN SPINACH IN THE GARDEN IN EARLY MARCH

Soil Amendments in the Legume Beds

Since about 1996, I have been practicing a crop management technique known as “the four crop rotation”.  One of the main tenets of this gardening approach is the addition of soil amendments in the legume (beans, peas) beds at the end of the growing season.   These include rock phosphate, green sand, ground limestone and some organic matter such as compost or a green manure such as “hairy vetch”.

The legumes set nitrogen in the soil during the growing season preparing the way for the nitrogen loving leaf crops the following season.  The rock phosphate requires about a year’s time in order to break down so that it can be absorbed by the fruit crops (tomatoes, peppers, cukes, melons, eggplants, etc) that will follow the leaf crops.  The green sand will break down in two years, just in time to feed the root crops that crave the potassium contained in the green sand.  If you’d like more information regarding the “four crop rotation” please go to the search bar on my home page and type in “The four crop rotation”.  There you find a post that I wrote in 2010 that explains things in detail.  In my opinion, this is the way to go for the home gardener.  Simple, easy to follow and it works.

THE GARDEN IN LATE FALL

THE GARDEN AS IT LOOKS IN LATE OCTOBER 2015

Winding Down

I’ve been working hard to tidy up the garden for winter and to tend the greatly reduced population of vegetables still standing.  Honestly, I am looking forward to the break.  Gardening is incredibly satisfying but lots of work.  It’s time for friends, family and football.  I will continue to blog through the Winter months, concentrating more on cooking, entertaining and planning next year’s garden.

All the best,

Greg Garnache