Harvest time in the outdoor garden is a magical time for growers. But while you are busy bringing in that delightful bounty of potatoes, squash, carrots, tomatoes and whatever else you are growing, don’t forget about all the other chores that need to be done around this time. Follow these tips to ensure you are ready to enjoy this year’s yields long into the winter, and your garden is ready for another season of maximum yields.
Store your harvest bounty properly.
While a fall plethora of garden goodies is a grand reward for the sweat and hard work invested in the garden, make sure you properly preserve your longer-lasting produce to extend its useful life and continue reaping the rewards well into winter. While some vegetables such as lettuce need to be used fresh, others such as winter squash can last for months in a cool, dry environment, and dried herbs can last for years if they are stored properly. Many different types of vegetables can be dried, canned or frozen for more long-term use, and can be a healthy alternative to commercially packaged products.
Write down which varieties performed best, and which were favorites.
To ensure a bountiful harvest next season, note both the type and specific variety of your best performers and favorites. Also write down which plants produced more or less than desired. While a bumper crop of squash may be a boon to some families, others may not enjoy the experience as much, and may wish to plant fewer squash plants the following year. On the other hand, if there wasn’t enough squash to go around, additional plants can be planted the following year.
Take note of anything that worked well, or didn’t.
Writing down what worked in your garden, including the brand names of particular products, and anything you wished you had done differently, will help you dial in your garden preferences for next year. It is also helpful to jot down the starting use date of new equipment, as it is hard for most people to remember if a particular piece of equipment is five or six years old, which may make a difference in warranty coverage. Knowing when a piece of equipment was purchased makes it possible to both track the durability record and pro rate the cost of purchase over the life of a particular item. In following years, these notes can be consulted and changes in gardening protocols can be made as needed.
Learn how to collect seeds.
Only collect seeds from open-pollinated, non-GMO plants, as it is often illegal to save and use seeds that are from patented life forms owned by corporations in perpetuity, and hybrid seeds will not consistently have the desired characteristics of the plant the seeds were saved from. See Shannon McKee’s heirlooms article, starting on page 146, for a few seed-saving tips. Seed saving not only helps maintain a supply of seeds for future gardens, but it can also help keep heirloom varieties in circulation.
Gather and store temporary supports.
Poorly maintained tomato cages and other supports can be a source of frustration during the growing season. Storing them not only helps growers stay organized, but it also minimizes the risk of winter damage. Damaged supports can be repaired or discarded, and replacements acquired before spring planting.
Tidy up around the garden.
Although it may wind up being neglected during the winter months, leaving the outdoor garden reasonably neat at the end of fall can help minimize the work needed to start it again in the spring. Many gardeners experience a morale surge during spring planting, and having to clean up too much of last year’s mess can dampen the experience.
Start a compost pile.
There are nutrients in the discarded leaves, stems and roots of plants from this year’s garden that can be reclaimed to grow other plants next year. Discard any material from sick or unhealthy plants, and put the rest in the compost pile. Used potting mix that is not contaminated with pathogens or overly salted can be added as well.
Chopping the material into small pieces can facilitate the composting process. Ideally the pile should be in a discrete but accessible, partial-sun location. Using a combination of greens and browns will help complete the process faster. For best results, the compost pile should be kept moist, but not soggy, and stirred occasionally. Once the compost has matured, it can be used in the garden.
Clean, oil, sharpen and store garden tools.
Doing some proper maintenance prior to putting garden tools away for the year helps them store well and ensures they are ready for use in the spring with minimal fuss. Keeping equipment organized can reduce the amount of time you spend searching for tools.
Properly store garden amendments.
Store any unused, dry fertilizers in a cool, dry place in clearly marked containers, and according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Powdered nutrients are susceptible to water and humidity damage and should be kept dry. Select a storage area carefully, as some nutrients are combustible, and others such as blood and bone meal may attract pests such as mice or rats. Ideally, you want to minimize the amount of fertilizer left over at the end of the gardening season.
Cover the garden to prevent weeds.
There are several ways to help prevent weeds from gaining a foothold while the garden is not in active use. Mulch can be applied in a thick layer, a winter cover crop can be planted, or newspapers, cardboard or plastic tarps can be used to cover garden areas.
Good preparation can make performing a task easier and more pleasant. Just after harvest is a great time to start preparing for the following year’s success.