I have a tendency to be late. Not really late, but not “fashionably late” either, as I really am not that fashionable.
But ask my office mates, fellow board members, my kids or even my dentist on Monday, and they will let you know that five minutes after the expected time is well within (my) reason. That’s not saying that it should be acceptable – putting others out because of my tardiness isn’t something I am proud of.
So it should come as no surprise that this article about “preparing your vegetable beds for rest” is probably two days late. The forecasted snow and rain has most likely started, night temperatures are dipping into the teens and 20s, and winter has already treated us to her first blast of what’s to come for the next several months.
But I can’t shoulder all this blame. From mid-September to the end of October, I watched the tomato and pepper plants on the deck, expecting to see black leaves and frozen fruit in a pot. These tell-tale signs of temperatures below 32 degrees would mark the end of the growing season for the warm-season crops and initiate the response: “Uh oh, I should probably focus on getting these beds covered for the winter.”
Yet, it never really happened. On Oct. 25, I harvested – for probably the sixth time – handfuls of Shishito peppers. The next day came the last of the tomatoes. And then that was it. The Band-Aid got ripped off quickly with lows hovering around 25 degrees.
Plants, done. But it was almost November for crying out loud, and for many of us, this was our first frost. And now, one week and 25 peanut butter cups later, many of us will be waking up to snow on the ground and frost on the windshield.
But even with the first taste of winter, you should still have time to wrap up those outside chores that you kept putting off because of one glorious weekend after another:
If you have cold-season root crops (carrots, parsnips, turnips), make sure you mulch them with a layer of straw or leaves. This will keep the soil soft for harvesting.
Clean vegetable beds of debris. The 2015 growing season was notoriously wet and warm. This led to higher-than-normal incidences of fungi in the garden. Powdery and downy mildews, early blight, cytospora and verticillium were common. If you think your plant was diseased, then throw it away or burn it, as the fungi can overwinter in situ or in the compost pile.
Give the beds a nice layer of compost. This may be 1 inch of aged manure, making sure there isn’t any herbicide residue hiding in it, or 2 to 3 inches of plant-based material, such as weed seed and herbicide-free straw or leaves.
Turn the compost pile one last time. If you have an active pile, get the last of the green material – lawn clippings, kitchen waste and plant cuttings – into the center of the pile where it can breakdown and keep your pile warm.
Take care of your tools. Drain and coil your hoses and store them inside; clean soil off your tools and rub linseed oil into the wooden handles.
And, lastly, tune your skis and have your edges sharpened. It’s going to be good.
Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at email@example.com or 382-6464.