Grow Your Own Food is an information series on gardening in Canada that will get you started on the right foot and help you every step of the way to having the garden you dream of! This series was originally written for and published on Food Bloggers Of Canada
Heading into fall there are different tasks our yards and gardens require. Many things are close to being ready for harvest, some are reaching their peak and others are done for the season.
Post – Harvest Composting
Peas, cucumbers, lettuce, beans are done or are nearing the end of their season. Once harvested pull all the remaining plant material and add it to your compost pile. If you do not compost it is something you should consider. You can read more about it in the Fertilizer and Composting part of this series.
If composting does not fit into your garden plans you can check locally for a composting facility in your area. Many towns and cities have locations where you can drop off garden refuse to be added to their composting efforts or they will offer curbside pickup of yard waste along with your regular garbage and recycling.
Saving Flower Seeds
Some flowers are at the end of their season and can be removed from the garden if you are not collecting seeds. If you are collecting flower seeds it is important to let the seed heads dry out on the stems. Keep a close eye on them, once the heads start to spit open to release the seeds they are ready for harvest.
I use a container to collect the dried seed heads which I carefully cut off with a sharp pair of scissors. Breaking the heads off can result is losing valuable seeds. Once collected I place the seeds into individual plastic containers without lids and place them in a warm dry location for a few days to make sure they are completely dry before final storage. When I am sure they are dry I place the seeds in envelopes writing any important information on the front, including the year harvested.
Seeds generally will last, if stored properly for about 3 years. I package all my envelopes in an air tight container for long term storage. The goal is to keep them cool and dry as moisture, humidity and warmth will shorten the seeds shelf life. The fridge is a great place for long term storage of all harvested garden seed.
Preparing For The Risk Of Frost
Depending on when you planted, root vegetables, pumpkins and melons are getting close to the final harvest. Keep in mind as we get closer to fall the risk of frost grows. You can find links to your growing zone in the Know Your Zone and the length of your growing season and frost dates in the Starting your Seeds Indoors parts of this series.
Some locations across Canada can have frost as early as late August. Having large bed sheets or row covers on hand makes it easy to cover things up on nights where frost may be in your forecast. For a light frost sheets are sufficient. For a hard frost I recommend harvesting as much as possible.
Green tomatoes will ripen indoors but there is no saving a fruit or vegetable that has been hit with a hard frost. This does not apply to root vegetables. Though you should think about the final harvest of those vegetables once frost starts to become a regular nightly occurrence. We will discuss long term storage of root vegetables in the next article of this series.
A light frost is when the temperature drops to 0 to -2 degrees Celsius. A hard frost is when the temperature drops to below -3 degrees Celsius for 4 or more hours.
Storing The Harvest
Things like peas, beans, broccoli, cauliflower & brussels sprouts they can be lightly blanched and then frozen. Canning is also an option though freezing is less work and I will do canning for things like beans, cucumbers and cauliflower and turn them into pickles.
Peppers and tomatoes go into salsa or can be canned as well. I have been know to freeze whole tomatoes for soup and slicing peppers into rings before freezing. Then when I need peppers for say a quiche I pull them out and chop them up while frozen.
Garlic and bulb onions need to be pulled and dried before going into storage. Remove as much dirt as possible.
Tomatoes and peppers can be picked green and will ripen indoors. Place the tomatoes in a shallow cardboard box and cover with newspaper, check daily for ripe tomatoes. Peppers will ripen on the kitchen counter.
Update Your Master Plan
Now is also a good time to sit down and update your master plan with what did and did not work this season. It is also a good time to make notes on any new additions to your garden space.
It was a very wet hot season in my part of Alberta and had some noticed effects specifically on my container garden. Anything planted in the ground has done spectacular this season. When plants are not stressed out by dry spells they grow very well. In my container garden the tomatoes and peppers are thriving and I will be harvesting bumper crops of both. All my potted flowers also did very well and are still lush.
My container zucchini and butternut squash started off spectacular and the beginning harvest was very nice. As the season progressed the plants began to decline from too much moisture. They flowered very nicely and were setting very nice fruit but it would seem like over night the cute little baby squash and zucchini would go from beautiful green to yellow and rot right on the vine. In the future I know that when the season is wetter then normal that any potted squash needs to be more protected from the rains. Hand watering is definitely preferred.
Continue To Mulch
As you pull the plant material from the garden you can continue to mulch the rows with grass. You can read all about the benefits of mulching in last months article in this series. And as we head into fall you can also start putting the leaves that are falling from the trees into the garden to be tilled in in the Spring. Every batch of grass and leaves you put into the garden is building up your soil.
Even after just one season of mulching it makes a noticeable difference in the condition of your soil. Your soil will appear darker, moister and have more bug activity, especially worms, all signs of healthy nutrient rich soil.