Summer is long gone and you may find yourself surveying the detritus of your hard won efforts. The pumpkins are carved, the tomatoes are canned. Now what? Compost, my friend! Gather it all up and layer it in the compost bin with leaves and grass clippings. You can turn it every so often in November, and then several times whenever it thaws. Before you know it, you’ll have rich, crumbly “black gold” come spring.
Another option is to mow it all off and then rake it onto your garden beds, adding mowed leaves and grass clippings if you have them. Use a garden fork to lightly mix it into the top few inches of soil. By spring, it should be mostly decomposed, or at the very least just a light layer of mulch.
If you still have the urge, it’s still possible to plant. Garlic can still go in–just cover it with 3-4 inches of mulch. You can also try scattering some spinach seed for a very early crop. Again, cover it lightly with mulch.
You can even try tossing in some potatoes, but plant them deep and cover with lots of mulch. Pull back the mulch and some of the dirt once spring arrives. Although it’s not a sure thing in our climate, you might be surprised at how hardy they can be. Speaking of potatoes, fork lots of leaves into your beds. Potatoes love leaves in their soil! Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and the like have an affinity for a “sweet” soil, so mixing in a bit of wood ash will make them happy (assuming your soil isn’t too alkaline).
Alkaline? What’s that? That refers to pH, which is incredibly important. Some crops like alkaline soil with a pH of 7 or above, while others like a more acidic soil with a pH of 6.5 or below. For instance, blueberries like pH of about 5, which is very rare in our area (unless the soil has been amended in the extreme). You can have a soil test done at the Farm Bureau or through the mail.
Another suggestion: compost, compost, compost! Some people even bury their kitchen scraps (banana peels, egg shells, etc., but never oil, meat, or dairy products) directly in their beds.
A dead soil will liven up quickly with the addition of good compost, so that you can expect to witness a myriad of beetles, bugs, and worms. They are your friends in the garden. The more complex the web of life, the healthier the soil will be. In turn, the plants will also thrive.
Enjoy the season and the seed catalogs, as they will arrive shortly to chase the winter winds away!
Andy Hazzard is a member of the Local Foods Work Group of the University of Illinois Extension in Winnebago County. She is a full-time farmer at Hazzard Free Farm and a partner in First Hand Harvest CSA. She blogs about local foods at blogs.e-rockford.com/gogreen.