Phacelia makes a great cover crop and attracts bees all summer. (Mary Lowther photo)

Phacelia makes a great cover crop and attracts bees all summer. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Getting the post-summer garden ready for what’s next

We’re in transition time between seasons.

By Mary Lowther

We’re in transition time between seasons. It’s time to harvest and clean up the summer garden and prepare for the fall and winter one. All the work we do now will pay off in spades come winter when we can eat the fruits of our labour without too much work. I miss the bridge club.

As I harvest my summer crop, I toss what we’re not eating into a pile ready to make the compost heap once I’ve processed the harvest. I’m also choosing which plants to save for seed and re-planting them into a bed set aside for seed saving. I’m choosing my best plants for this so its progeny will likely maintain these characteristics.

Then I remove the soaker hoses, drain the water out of them, roll them up carefully so they won’t bend, and store them together in a sheltered spot. If I was smarter and more obsessive compulsive, I’d label them with the specific bed they came from because every spring I must reassess where each hose fits best. One of these years I’ll do that.

As I empty each bed, I rake up all the detritus and mulch and toss this all into the pile designated for compost because I’ve found that slugs and wood bugs proliferate under the lovely protective canopy in winter if I don’t remove it. I sprinkle and rake in fall and winter cover crop seeds: this year I’m using white clover, fava beans and fall rye — the clover and beans add nitrogen and the rye adds tons of root mass. These crops hold nutrients in the soil and prevent erosion during our rainy winter, while adding their own nutrients to the mix when I dig them in next year.

I haven’t dead-headed any flowers this year, letting them go to seed; some for myself but most for the birds, and some will fall to the ground to sprout again next year. I’ve got some cosmos reseeded from two years ago still going strong. This year I bought a small packet of phaecelia, a flowering plant recommended as a cover crop, but quite expensive when bought in bulk. This is great stuff! I sowed the seeds mid-spring along the edge of one side of the garden and they all came up and weren’t bothered at all by insects or disease. Bees have been inhabiting them all summer, buzzing happily away, so I’m leaving them until the last flower has been fertilized, whenever that will be because they’ve been flowering all summer. They start flowering at the bottom of the flower head and gradually continue up, giving bees a continued feast until now only the tops are flowering, like gladiolas. These seeds I plan on saving and using as a cover crop in future beds.

I knew that fall vegetables were harvested in the fall, but it took me awhile to figure out the difference between winter and overwinter vegetables, and I think I’ve got it now: winter vegetables are harvested during winter, like carrots left in the ground, Brussels sprouts, winter cabbage, kale and vegetables grown in the cold frame during winter. Overwintering ones develop enough roots to survive the winter but are harvested the following year, usually in the spring once they’ve put out new growth. Purple sprouting broccoli and overwintering onions fit this category.

I’m feeling rather smug this week because my nectarine and apple trees are producing pretty good fruit. These espaliered trees take up very little room, produce sooner than full grown trees and fit snugly into my back yard.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.