In the Garden After The Frost

Reader Contribution by Cindy Conner
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After the first hard frost in the fall, the garden becomes a different place. As the summer crops finished, if you had harvested that biomass for the compost pile and planted cover crops, by the time the frost hit your garden would still be green. Otherwise, the remains of the frost-killed warm weather crops might be looking pretty dismal. If you have areas like that in your garden, harvest those remains for the compost pile and plant winter rye or Austrian winter peas (the two cover crops that have the best chance this late). Or, you might choose to mulch your garden with leaves. Either way will be better for future soil building—and your spirit—than just leaving things as they are.

On the other hand, you might have planned ahead to have food from your garden through the winter. In that case, you could be harvesting carrots, beets, Jerusalem artichokes, collards, kale, and parsley, such as you see in the photo. Other winter crops you could have available might be Swiss chard, parsnips, turnips, radish, and kohlrabi, to name a few. Planning ahead is the secret to having a bounty from your garden all year. The carrots you see in the photo taken November 5 were planted June 27 after the rye harvest. Learn more about that method at Winter Carrots.

The kale and collards that we like to eat through the winter are trickier to establish in our hot humid summers. The kale was started in a cold frame (my seed starting area) in July and transplanted into the garden on August 13. It had to be monitored carefully from the get-go to pick off the cabbage worms and harlequin bugs that so love the cabbage family plants. However, once the frost has come, insects are not a problem in the garden. A little perseverance at the beginning pays dividends all winter in the form of fresh food on the table. If the weather is too hot in August I cover that bed with a shade cloth (which could be an old bed sheet). Once the cold weather sets it, I cover it with 6 ml plastic. Those coverings are supported by plastic hoops that form a low tunnel. Learn more about that at Homeplace Earth.

In order to have the space open in your garden for carrots in June and kale in August, the previous crops in those areas must have completed their cycle. Having a succession of plants through your garden (with the proper nourishment of compost and organic amendments, of course) takes you up a notch from being a beginning gardener. If you’ve already been doing that, pat yourself on the back. If your garden was left to the elements as each summer crop finished, know that there are exciting things to learn ahead. It is like finishing the first chapter of a book. There is so much more to learn about that will literally nourish you. If your garden is still in its early chapters, take some time now to work on your garden plan so that you will be harvesting a bounty of food through the winter next year.

Learn more about Cindy Conner and what she’s up to

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