Garden Smart: Less Garden Work Equals Great Results

Garden Smart by cutting back your garden work for great results. Includes smart gardening methods like leaving end-of-season garden matter, growing cover crops, less mulching and more.

| October/November 1996

Mort Mather cuts through the false folklore of late-season garden chores to garden smart and makes a compelling case for doing ... nothing? (See the garden illustrations and photos in the image gallery.)

How to Garden Smart

September and October are the most beautiful months in Maine. The air is clear and crisp. The garden is overflowing with its bounty. Corn on the cob roasted on the grill in the husk is a favorite. We strip back the husk and use it as a handle, buttering the corn by rubbing it across a stick of butter. We frequently eat it as an hors d'oeuvre outside before the rest of the meal. When we finish an ear we throw it in a high arc toward the compost bin, cheering if it hits the target.

Salads are the best ever with vine-ripened tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh lettuce, maybe green peppers and onions or scallions. Or maybe we will have a platter of thickly sliced blood-red tomatoes with fresh basil chopped and sprinkled over them or cucumbers and onions swimming in vinegar and water and flavored with a little fresh dill.

The main course might be kabobs with summer squash, onions, pepper, green or pink cherry tomatoes, and some red meat. Then again we might grill some fish or chicken along with zucchini, whole onions, and potatoes.

Sometimes I feel like a bear trying to eat enough to get through the winter. It is clear these evenings that winter is the next season. The first frost is the most unmistakable indication. The first frost leaves a large portion of the garden covered with a network of dead vines. The tomato patch is a tangle of dead plants and squishy tomatoes.

With the first frost to be followed in a couple of months by frozen ground, we basically have three options: We can clear away all the crop residue and/or till the soil. We can cover the garden with something to protect it from the elements. Or we can do nothing, leaving the garden as it is at the end of the growing season.

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