Now that the heat of summer is drawing to a close, cooler weather is on its way. Your summer plants have hopefully given you quite a bit of food, and your beds are starting to die back. Before you clean up your beds and throw your garden waste into your composter, you’ll want to harvest the compost that’s been cooking all season long. If you’ve got a rotating composter, you should have some fully cooked compost just waiting for you to use. Don’t wait until next Spring before you use it!
As your plants have been growing, they’ve been taking nutrients out of the soil and turning them into food for you. You need to replenish those nutrients before you replant or you’ll deplete your soil. So, before we go any further, empty your composter into a Lifetime wheelbarrow or onto a tarp. If you want to sift the larger (and possibly) not completely composted material out, please do so, but save the un-composted stuff to put back in your composter.
Once you’ve got your compost out of your composter then you can start cleaning out your beds. Shake off as much soil as you can off the roots back into your beds, then toss the rest into the composter. If you want to speed up the composting you can take a pair of scissors to them before adding them to the mix.
Next, you’ll add those nutrients back into the soil from your composter.
How much, you ask? That depends! (Don’t you love those answers?)
If you’re following the Squarefoot Gardening technique, add a “spade-full or two” to each square foot. A more basic answer is simply that you can’t add too much. You can literally grow your entire garden in 100% compost – if you have enough compost! As long as it’s fully cooked, your plants will love it!
Okay, so now you’ve harvested the compost you’ve been growing all season, you’ve cleaned out your beds and started that material on it’s journey to becoming compost, and you’ve added your fresh compost to your garden beds. Now what should you plant? And when?
Depending on where you live, you might want to wait until temps start to dip, even if it means having empty beds for a few weeks. In other places you’ll want to put seeds in the ground right away.
Most people think you have to plant “cool weather” crops this time of year, but you can probably get another round of potatoes out of the ground if you start right away. Red beets and any of your root crops will likely do well (parsnips, turnips, and especially carrots). Anything that you planted early in the spring should do fairly well in the fall, especially as temperatures start to drop.
Leaf-lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and broad beans make up the bulk of what people consider “cool weather” crops.
As weather gets cold you can extend your growing season by several weeks by covering your crops with a frost cloth. If you have a Lifetime Raised Garden Bed you can put your Frost Cover back on when frost threatens (leave it off until you absolutely have to put it back on).
Also, carrots and other root crops can be covered with straw and left in the ground, to be harvested all through the winter, just brush the snow and straw back, pull what you need, then cover with snow again.