For most of us the summer garden is winding down. If you're like me, you may be reflecting on what went wrong, what went right, and thinking about what could be done differently. We typically go into planning and prepping mode for the garden near the end of summer into fall and then again near the end of winter and early spring into the summer months.
By implementing the strategies that I'm going to cover this fall, you're going to notice a big difference during next year's growing season.
Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #198 What to do This Fall for a Better Garden Next Year, of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen and life you want for your family and homestead.
My goal with my podcast, website, YouTube channel, and my books is to give you the knowledge that I've gained from hands on experience from decades of raising our own food. I want to share with you how you can make it work for you too. I think the important thing to remember when we are gardening is to tailor things to your specific needs, landscapes and growing climate because no one garden is going to look exactly like someone else's. I want to stress, just because one person does something one way does not mean we need to have it exactly the same way in our own garden.
There are some universal things with gardening that are going to benefit you no matter what climate you live in or no matter what you're doing, but I really recommend trying things out and adjusting as needed. Don't be afraid to stop doing something if it isn't working for you, even if it works great for somebody else. I just feel life is too short in the gardening world to struggle through something if it's not working for you.
Now, that being said, I've had tomato growing woes in years past…about six or seven years ago I really nailed growing tomatoes. So there's some things that are worth pushing through and figuring out. One of the things I've tried in the past is growing tomatoes in containers and that did not work well for me. I tried different types of containers and they just did not do well. So I switched to growing them under cover using my high tunnel. We live in the Pacific northwest where we typically have a lot of cool and rainy weather even in the summer months so growing my tomatoes in the high tunnel made a huge difference.
With that said, we'll be talking more about looking at and assessing things that didn't work well and how to attack that differently and look at what and how to prep things now for the following growing season. So my number one tip is do an assessment.
Evaluate Your Garden
Look at your annual vegetable garden, container gardens, perennials such as your fruit trees, asparagus beds, rhubarb, fruit bushes – all the things that you grow for your own fruit production. Take a look at them and make a note. If something is doing well and you're getting a really good crop, where the plants seem to be really happy and producing well without issues you don't need to do anything with that, right? You're just going to leave that be.
Weeds Taking Over?
But, we really want to assess those areas that didn't do well, or you just couldn't manage it. Like, did you feel totally overwhelmed with the amount of weeks that you had or the upkeep of certain garden beds? If so, what are some ways that you can change and do things differently next year?
That might include putting down some type of black plastic this year, or maybe it's several layers of cardboard to smother the weeds over the winter months so that you don't have as many weeds come springtime. And maybe that also includes implementing different types of mulching to also help with weed suppression, it that's something you're really battling.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Or maybe you had too much of a certain crop. Now, I always feel it's a little bit better to over plant than to under plant but if you were totally overwhelmed make a note of it and don't plant as much of that specific crop next year.
Disease Giving You Woes?
If you were really battling with some types of disease and/or insects, you're going to want to identify what it was. For a lot of diseases, you will want to make sure that you are practicing crop rotation. Which means you need to know where you had your crops in the ground, especially your annual vegetables since perennials aren't being moved every year.
Take a snapshot of your garden with your phone or write it out in a quick sketch with some grid paper or a plain old piece of notebook paper. I find it really easy to just use your smartphone to take a couple different pictures and then I have it so that I can easily look at it for next year when I'm deciding what's going to go where using crop rotation, companion planting, or both.
I make note of what plants were suffering from some type of disease and then think about what I can do next year to help eliminate that. For me this year, I had a lot of both downy mildew and powdery mildew. Part of that was because of our weather. Even by Pacific northwest standards we had a lot of cooler weather and a lot more rain this year than we have had in the five or six years. It was really wet out. So even though I wasn't doing a lot of overhead watering with the sprinkler (I hardly had to water my garden at all, which was nice) but there was a lot of overhead rain, so my squash plants really developed downy mildew. Then they got powdery mildew towards the end of the season.
So I'm looking at things that I can do now to help minimize that next year. Obviously making sure that all of those plants are pulled out, that I don't leave any of those leaves to over winter because then it's going to stay in the soil even more so. And, of course, they aren't going into my compost pile. So I need to make sure that I'm pulling out all of the diseased plants and leave and that they are either being burned or they are going in a sealed up garbage bag. Here where I live I can do outdoor burning in a burn pile so I will be burning these a little bit later this fall as I'm not ready to pull them out yet. As soon as they are done producing and we get a hard killing frost, I'll be harvesting the winter squash and then pulling them out.
The other thing that I can do is to try a different spacing with my winter squash and have blocks of other crops in between them so that they're not vining so close to one another. This will help improve airflow. The other thing I'm going to make a note of is to prune the older leaves – the leaves that are closer to the base of the plant. Start pruning before it begins to vine out to get better air flow throughout the summer months.
Those are some examples to show you how you can work through coming up with your plan of attack and writing it down so that next year you have it laid out. I find just doing a little bit of planning ahead of time and deciding what I'm going to do next year makes it much more like that I'm going to do it AND stay on top of it. If I wait until next spring and summer when I'm actually planting these crops and then try to remember all these things, it's not fresh in my mind anymore, especially having been gardening for multiple years. Trust me, the years tend to run together. I've been gardening for 20 years – a spring, summer and fall garden – so they definitely run together and when trying to remember whether something occurred last year, or the year before it's difficult. So just trust me, do the assessment and write it down.
If you use a planner or calendar, pop the notes there. Speaking of planners, and notes, worksheets, and charts, my new book, The Family Garden Plan – Raising a Year's Worth of Sustainable and Healthy Food, is the book I wished I'd had and has lots of charts and worksheets to help you have your best garden. It doesn't come out until January 7th, 2020 but I'm just so excited because it's going to help so much with our gardening, especially is you're planning to raise a year's worth of specific crops.
Those Pesky Insects
As we continue our assessment we also need to look at what insects were bothering our plants. Identifying those insects is key to know how to treat it appropriately. If you were dealing with some insect infestations, you'll want to look at whether there are good types of predatory insects that will help get rid of them. For example, if you were dealing with aphids, then you would want to put in plants that ladybugs like. You want an environment that is inviting to the ladybugs and supports them because they naturally prey on aphids. This is the easy way which also means you don't have to do a lot of work, other than putting in those plants. Let the ladybugs handle and attack the aphids.
One note about ladybugs, you can purchase them from the garden center or online, but you don't have the plants and environment that is inviting to them, they aren't going to stay and eat the aphids. So it's really better to create the environment that they like and are attracted to than to just bring them in.
How are the Perennials Doing?
The next thing I do is take a peek at my perennials – fruit trees, flowers, herbs, rhubarb, berry bushes…anything that you don't plant but seed every year but you put in the ground and it comes back the following year. I take some time to assess how my perennials did.
I have a lavender plant that that's been in a container for about four or five years and it's not really growing anymore because it's just grown to the size of the container. It's not going to get any bigger in that container. So if you're growing plants in containers, the plant is only going to grow as big as the container will allow it and support the root growth. Since my lavender plant isn't getting any bigger, I know that I need to move that lavender out of that container in order for it to flourish and grow bigger. So evaluating whether plants need to be moved out of their current containers is one consideration.
Dividing plants is another option. Is it time to divide some of those perennials? Usually, after a perennial is established, something like chives or rhubarb may reach the size that I may need to divide them next year. So make note of that once they're in dormancy that I need to divide them and also decide where I'm going to put the divided part. Will I give it to somebody? Do I want to increase my yields of that plant? If so, where else on my property will I plant it?
The other thing I like to pay attention to is whether our fruit trees and all of our perennial beds need some more specific fertilizer. This year I noticed that I need to make sure my raspberries have plenty of nitrogen. I put in 12 new raspberry canes this year in new ground and they were a little bit stressed. They got plenty of water thanks to all the rain we got but they got a little bit of yellowing on the oldest leaves. So I need to make sure that I really apply the manure and compost to them this fall to allow it plenty of time to break down and get those nutrients down to the roots and into the soil before the spring growing time. So I have notes to make sure to do that this fall.
The beautiful thing about perennials, like fruit trees, is that once established it's not often that they need fertilizer. But it's still good to check them because sometimes they do. I read the signs on my plants. One sign to look for is whether it had a lot of growth or not. Did it seem like it was kind of struggling to grow or were the leaves a paler color, especially yellowing, or did you get a smaller fruit production? Those are all signs that your low on nitrogen and putting compost and/or some type of manure on in the fall to allow for sufficient time to break down over the winter months will help feed the soil for the upcoming spring. So look at your perennials to determine if you need to do these types of applications.
Do You Need to Add More Plants?
I've noticed that my family is eating more; my kids are growing and my son is hitting those teenage years and we've noticed the past few months that he's eating a lot more. So this is the time to decide whether to add in more fruit trees, fruit bushes, or other perennial plants. Or should something be extended, such as an asparagus patch (the bummer about asparagus is that you can't harvest them the first year to allow them to grow a really good root and crown system)? I've decided that we need to put in a pear tree. We have cherries, plums, apples, blueberries, raspberries, elderberries, blackberries, and rhubarb but I don't have a pear tree. I think it might be time to add one.
Did a New Technique I Tried Work? Do I Need to Make Any Adjustments?
As I mentioned before, The Family Garden Plan is my new book that will be coming out next year. It's been in process for two years and the cool part is that it is a color book with gorgeous photos. I did not take the photos but they are really great. But what that meant was that my publisher had to send my editor and the photographer to our homestead to take these photos…and they came the very first week of June.
With my growing season, normally the annual vegetable garden like peppers, tomatoes, beans…anything that's considered a warm crop, don't get planted until Memorial Day weekend, which means that there really wasn't going to be a whole lot to take pictures of five days after planting the seeds. So, knowing that I was going to have a photographer out to take pictures, I ran an experiment in my own garden where I seed started things that I normally don't seed start and I also used cold frames and other things in order to get the garden put in. I was planting about four or five weeks earlier than I normally would…so I was really pushing the envelope so that they plants would be growing for the photo shoot.
I planted starts that I had from seed starting indoors and direct sowed in cold frames. Cold frames keep the soil warmer, especially during the night when the overnight temps are low enough to still have frosts. What was interesting about this is that the daytime temps were still in the lower temperatures so what was planted in the cold frames still didn't grow as fast. So I noticed that even though I had starts and they'd been in the ground quite a bit longer by weeks, that I didn't really gain a whole lot on getting an earlier harvest. Despite having planted many things early I still direct sowed beans and such during my normal planting time. What I found was that the ones I direct sowed quickly caught up to the plants that had been in the ground for several weeks. This happened because the temperatures were warmer and were ideal for those plants to be growing.
Even though those plants were planted five to six weeks earlier I maybe got a max of 10 days earlier harvest. Given that and the amount of work putting them in early using cold frames, row covers, etc. just didn't seem worth the effort. That's good to know that for me and my growing climate, it's not worth all the work and effort to try to get warm weather crops early when it's only a 10 day difference. I'll only do it for crops that I really need to like my peppers and tomatoes that I grow in my high tunnel. All the other warm weather crops I won't bother doing next year.
I like to test things and see how much a difference it makes for me and whether it's worth it. So I look at things like the yield, time involved and weigh the pros and cons. For me, it wasn't really worth it to go through all that extra work trying to start so many things and getting them going that much earlier.
Record Your Frost Dates
Depending on your climate and growing zone, you are likely coming up on your first hard frost (if you're listening to this early to mid-September) in the fall. A hard frost is classified as a killing frost, meaning it's gonna wipe out your warm weather crops, like your cucumbers, summer squash, green beans, and definitely your tomato and pepper plants. It's usually below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. You can get a frost that's around 32 degree but it doesn't kill everything. Sometimes it'll kill some things but not everything. What we're most concerned with is the hard frost that just wipes everything out in one night.
What's important though is that you track that so that you know for your area specifically, talking your backyard garden, so that you know when your average first fall frost really falls. That's something that I always mark on the calendar. Same thing in the spring when we have out last frost so that I have accurate records for my specific yard and growing area. There is nothing like having data from your own place. We can get a lot of great average data from online resources such as your county extension, or Googling the information, but there's nothing like the exact information for your yard.
Want to Learn More?
I know we've touched on a lot of different gardening topics this episode. If your interested in learning more about all these different topics I've mentioned such as crop rotation, companion planting, perennials, fruit trees, etc. then be sure to register for my FREE online organic gardening workshop. Everything begins October 2nd, 2019. I am already ending out to people who are registered special emails with resources tailored exactly to growing your own organic food.
We're going to be covering so many topics on gardening and increasing your harvest with less time using natural methods like composting soil, improving your soil, crop rotation…all of those fun things. So go and get registered for my Organic Gardening Workshop! This is a workshop where I’m giving tons of tips, and you do not want to miss it!!
I hope that this post helps you figure out what you need to do to have a great growing season next year.