Time to let the magical earth rest

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It’s time to put the garden to bed. Leaves on the hardwood trees have turned bright yellow, gold, orange and red, and most of our flowers have passed for yet another year.

As painful as it is for those of us who just love gathering most of suppers from our backyard gardens, mid-October pretty much spells the end of the season.

I still have parsnips, most of which I will mulch and leave in the ground for harvesting in the spring when they will be sweeter than they are now.

A row of very large carrots have yet to be brought in, as well as about half a row of beets. I figure I will harvest them as I need them, then pull up the rest and store them.

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Most of the more-often-than-not small Brussels sprouts still must be picked and frozen.

I met my goal of having fresh lettuce growing right into October. Next year I’ll shoot for having fresh spinach right up to frost as well.

Despite the distinctive lack of summer and winter squashes and cucumbers this year — and the loss of most of my pumpkins to hungry deer — this has been a stellar gardening year. I’m still canning and freezing, and expect to continue until the end of the month. The pantry is lined with rows and rows of canned whole tomatoes, salsa, tomato juice, green and yellow beans, and several dozen jars of various jams and jellies.

The freezer, tucked in a corner of the garage, is filling up with Brussels sprouts, cabbage and broccoli.

While cleaning up the garden, I will leave some tall sunflowers intact even though they are now passed. Some of the seeds will germinate on their own so they will have a head start when I transplant them in the spring, and many will be eaten by chickadees and other winter birds.

As I clean up each row or bed, I am planning what and where I will plant next year’s crops. The past four months’ successes and failures have been mentally noted so I can decide where vegetables will have the best chance. It’s also a prudent idea to rotate crops. We also hope to get our garden fence completed, as a deterrent to both the wild critters and my domestic pet geese.

Before you rest . . .

Lots must be considered when we put the garden to rest until the next gardening season begins.

Suggestions include:

* Remove all weeds, grass and remaining vegetable plants;

* Rototill each bed and row;

* Add compost, manure and/or grass clippings and leaves to the beds;

* Once you know where you’d like to plant crops next year, have the soil tested and amend as necessary; a good example is deciding now where to plant the potatoes, because these popular vegetables don’t like lime or too much fertilizer;

* Some people like to plant a cover crop when putting the garden to bed. This could be buckwheat or clover, among other plants, that will actually add nutrients to the soil;

* Clean, oil and store all the garden tools;

* Add the dead plants to a new compost pile so that it will be ready in about two years;

* Turn the compost in the one-year-old compost pile and continue to add kitchen scraps for as long as you can. (Our compost piles are quite a distance from the house, so once the snow gets deep, I have a lot of difficulty getting out there.);

* If new or additional beds are wanted for next year, build them now so you are ready to go in the spring; and,

* Plant some parsley or basil inside the house so you will have fresh herbs throughout the winter. Inside-grown herbs aren’t quite as flavorful as those grown outside, but they are a touch of spring when five feet of snow is on the ground, and they do taste good.

But plant your garlic now!

If garlic is a top priority for growing next year, this is the time to plant it.

Directions:

* Select the largest cloves you can find and plant them 1-inch deep, 4-5 inches apart, and in rows 12-15 inches apart, root side down;

* Place compost or fertilizer around each clove, then mulch with newspaper and/or hay. Make sure the hay is 3-5 inches deep to protect the cloves from winter freezing.

* In the spring, as soon as the snow has melted off the garlic patch, check for sprouts. These light green garlic sprouts will be the first thing you will see in the garden.

* Throughout the summer, weed and mulch and remove scapes (tiny garlic bulbs atop the spiked leaves).

* Harvest when the three bottom leaves have turned brown.

But most of all in October, just look around the garden and specialty patches to see just how much the magical earth has produced for you. I consider every year a miracle, and it seems that most years I add another outside-the-garden patch for trying something new.

So, until March, I wish you a warm and comfortable few months. Soon, the seed catalogs will arrive in the mailbox and we can start planning our dream garden all over again.

Eileen M. Adams has been gardening for many years. She never tires of watching tiny seeds turn into fresh, nutritious vegetables, thanks to the magical earth. She may be reached at petsplants@midmaine.com

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