Growing season ends but garden is all-year job

I've found one of the sure things about gardening is that no matter whether the season disappoints you or burgeons like the cabbage rose, you no sooner are through it than it's time to think about next year.

It's apparent, too, that as the family garden grows in economic importance, gardeners are learning that instead of limiting the gardening period to spring and early summer, it can be coaxed into almost a complete year's go-around, expanding the garden's usefulness many times over.

This year I, along with many other gardeners, am cleaning up after a summer of harsh burning drought, and digging into the fall nursery catalogs as excitedly as ever, I courted the spring ones, planning what is expedient to plant through the fall and winter taht can be counted on to bear the brunt of winter's icy winds and snowdrifts.

Actually, fall is nature's time to plant and reseed, adding the bonus of an extra six months of growth before spring.

The cool, crisp days of autumn being much like those of spring, it's logical to plant the same types of vegetables. Then, of course, all the lovely spring bulbs should go in now. In Northern gardens they can be planted in September and October; southward, as late as December.

Strawberry beds should be renovated and cared for now. First water and then apply mulch and compost around existing plants.

Prepare soil for setting in new plants by digging in rich compost, followed by water -- and mulch generously. Remove blooms, leaving the nutrients to bolster the plants for their spring splurge.

If you can expect the ground to freeze and heave, much over the entire bed for protection.

Now is the prime time to look after the rhubarb bed. If 4 or 5 years old, dig each clump and divide nd reset about three feet apart. Firm the soil around corms and load on rich compost, manure, and mulch. Fall is the best time to start a new bed.

It's hard to separate "fall" from "frost." Frost is not the monster we often think it is. We have to learn to work around it. Frost stops insects in their tracks. Water is a prime enemy of frost because it's much warmer. Run the soaker steadily on frosty nights. Plants full of sap fend off frost better than dry, thirsty ones.

With a hard frost warning be prepared with blankets, cloches, straw, leaves, newspapers, burlap bags, and boxes to cover any plants that are worth the effort.

Study your local weather by being out in it, watching how it acts. It may vary from two blocks away, so you must be -- to a certain degree -- your own weatherman.

If you live on a hilltop the frost may not reach your garden till much later in the season, while the one down lower in the valley may suffer an early devastation every year.

Should you be fortunate enough to have a choice of sites for your garden and wish to foil frost potential, choose a hilltop. A southern exposure is ideal for the garden, but a northern sky will keep orchard trees from blossoming while freezing is likely.

Other precautions to take against frosty weather: Broadcast seeds instead of planting them in rows. Plant closer together to have foliage overlap for protection. Allow late tomatoes and cucumbers to sprawl on the ground. Plant tender crops on the south side of buildings, shrubs, or fences. South-facing walls reflect the sun's heat. Plants also may be protected by bales of hay placed around or directly over them.

One great help, much favored in England, is the use of glass cloches. They can be made of heavy plastic bent into half-round shelters, or fasten two flat pieces together at the top to make small A-frames. Plastic or boards across the ends make them snug.

When protected by cloches, late lettuce may last into November or even December.

Sow round peas in late October to harvest in May. Carrots dropped into the ground in January will be far ahead and going into the salad bowl by April.

Plant garlic as soon as nightly temperatures can be counted on to stay low. This will keep them from sprouting. Among cold-weather vegetables that bear up againt low temperatures are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beets, cabbage, kale, turnips, mustard, and carrots. However, all should be well established before hard frost dates.

Last spring a friend of mine had a new winter planting experience.

Enthusiastic about the new sugar snap peas, she ordered more of the seeds in 1979 than she managed to plant. Not wishing to waste any of them, she filled a pint jar with the seeds and put it in the freezer where they stayed for about six months.

In January she took them out, sprouted the lot, and planted them on Jan. 12 -- wondering what they would do.

To her surprise, they never stopped growing and the vines were out of the garden far ahead of the midspring heat.

The whole year of gardening is here to stay. Make the most of it.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.