Summer is dwindling down. Labor Day weekend has thankfully come and gone; since I live on a beach route people get a little crazy this time of year. Even though the smell of BBQ, sun screen, and DEET are beginning to fade, it’s not time to retire that garden just yet. Fall is officially days away, and with fall comes – wait for it – fall gardening! Hopefully your tomatoes are still producing the last few beautiful fruits and there are a few more cucumbers and watermelons hanging on the vine, but you need to start working the soil again and getting seeds and plants ready to go into the ground.
First things first, remove any non-producing plants from the garden. If you had a bad year this year, like I did, that may mean the removal of every single squash and zucchini plant you planted (unfruitful, ungrateful plants that they may be). Hopefully you’re composting them since they still have the potential to help you later.
Once you’ve removed the old plants you’ll need to rework the ground. Start by loosening up the soil using a shovel or pitchfork, stick, rake, kid’s toy tractor, heck, even your kids for that matter. Child labor is a great way to step up your gardening fun and productivity. Anyway, you want to reverse any compaction so the new plants have a better chance of growing an extensive and healthy root system. Plants don’t like soil that’s been walked all over, or that has just settled to a point where the soil is no longer loose.
Next, it’s time to recharge the soil. The soil’s been working hard all summer busting hump to make your yummy veggies. It’s run out of nutrients by now. This revitalization can be done a number of ways, or you can take an all of the above method. You can use traditional fertilizers; either organic or inorganic to add nutrients. Compost made in part from the old plants from yesteryear is a fantastic way to add richness to your soil. Or, you can do both fertilizer and compost. Mix this in the soil thoroughly to ensure that each plant will have the food it needs to make you food.
Now, let’s get those plants in the ground! There is actually a wide variety of plants that do well in cooler temperatures and will last all the way to the first heavy frost, or longer, if you use a hoop house or cold frame. These plants often called cole crops, include: leafy greens like spinach, kale, cabbage, and lettuce, cauliflower and broccoli, winter squashes like butternut squash and some beans and peas like sugar snaps. These plants are full of nutrients and will grow right into winter. Plus plants belonging to the legume family, peas and beans, are nitrogen fixing plants. This means that they can actually take nitrogen out of the atmosphere and fix it into the soil at the root zone (helped by some pretty intense bacteria). This nitrogen fixing also helps replenish the soil nutrients; now that’s a double whammy! Get busy though, early to mid September is a great time to be planting your fall garden.