Lowther: Preparing garden for fall, winter

As the summer garden winds down I’m preparing for fall and winter.

As the summer garden winds down I’m preparing for fall and winter.

I rake up summer mulches and put them beside the compost heap, ready for fall composting. Back east where winter comes hard they can leave their mulch on the garden, but our mild winters foster hordes of slugs and pillbugs nestling under mulches, ready to demolish spring plantings next year. I protect my soil with cover crops instead.

Cover crops, also called green manure, are plants sown when no edible crops occupy the bed or under some crops toward the end of their growing season. Certain types of grains, legumes, flowers and greens have been bred specifically for this purpose. They help clean the soil of noxious weeds and disease, retain nutrients and bring up more from the sub-soil, protect the soil from erosion, and add nitrogen to the soil when they’re dug under while still tender and green.

Cover crops dry out the soil in spring through transpiration — that’s the movement of water up from the soil, through the plant and out of the leaves as it evaporates, allowing for earlier plantings come springtime. Legumes contribute a great deal of nitrogen to the soil and grains grow huge root masses that hold onto the soil and nutrients;

This week I’ll sow crimson clover under the beans, lettuce and brassicas, and as plants finish and get pulled up I’ll sow cover crop in their stead. Each cover crop grows best in a certain season; crimson clover, fava beans, corn salad and many grains grow well in fall and winter. Although growers recommend buckwheat for summer growth because it dies over winter, I’m using it in conjunction with fava and crimson clover because it still adds biomass and the roots hold the soil in place, but mainly because that’s what I’ve got.

I won’t be watering any more this year so I’ll pull out all the soaker hoses, drain them and carefully wind them up so they won’t kink. Some of these hoses are more than 10 years old and they still work well.

The tomatoes keep producing prodigiously under their plastic tent that keeps them quite warm and dry. Some books recommend laying the plants down on their sides on the ground for warmth and covering them with a plastic-covered frame, but when I’ve followed this advice, I’ve lost too much of the crop to slugs and pill bugs.

I find that tomatoes ripen well into October and are easy to pick when strung up vertically. I read that new suckers can be nipped off when tomato plants finally get pulled out and these suckers can be potted up for Christmas harvest. I plan on giving this a try.

Now, I must go and tend to the latest batch of tomato sauce. My 10 plants have produced more tomatoes than any I’ve ever grown, more about this later. One last thought— cucumber season can also be prolonged by covering with plastic at night; just make sure to remove the plastic on hot days unless you want them cooked prematurely.