Fava beans and fall rye ready to sow for winter cover crop. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Late season summer harvest and beginning to prepare for fall

The end of summer doesn’t mean I stop gardening.

By Mary Lowther

The end of summer doesn’t mean I stop gardening. After eating and preserving the summer harvest, it’s back outside to pull out spent plants and tidy up the place.

This summer it occurred to me that I could pile spent plant debris in the paths on top of the mulch and pull it around newly planted crops instead of tossing it directly into the compost heap. I’ll put them into the heap come fall cleanup time.

Green beans will be pretty well finished so I leave the rest of the pods on the plants for the seeds to dry for winter stews and use the best of the lot for next year’s sowing.

Tomatoes will be coming on like gangbusters so it’s time to cover them against fall rains and late blight.

I’ve found that they don’t need to be covered all season because late blight doesn’t hit until late August/early September and I suspect the tomatoes get more out of the sun when they’re not covered.

After I pull out spent crops I hoe up the beds and sow fall and winter cover crops that retain nutrients in the soil and add their own biomass over winter. Grain cover crops like fall or winter rye and wheat develop huge, deep roots that hold the soil and rot when we cut the tops down the following spring, loosening the soil and providing food for microorganisms.

Leguminous winter cover crops like vetch and fava beans take nitrogen from the air and incorporate it into their roots so when these are dug in next spring, the roots rot and the nitrogen becomes available to our new crops.

We can also under sow well-developed plants like beans, cabbage and broccoli with crimson clover so that when we harvest and remove the vegetables, the clover has begun to grow and, although it dies off in our cold winter, its thatch prevents some erosion and it adds nitrogen to the soil.

Cover crops are an integral part of my garden, especially in this rainforest climate that washes out most nutrients from soils.

This time of year I also let the herbs flower, providing a late-season snack for any pollinators lurking around. I dig up my best biennials and move them to a bed that never gets watered so they will overwinter there and go to seed next year. Biennials are plants that need to endure a winter before they develop seed the following year.

Come spring, they’ll flower for the bees and then produce copious amounts of seeds that I’ll dry and save for future sowing.

Aside from the great exercise we get outside, just think how smug we’ll feel when we produce fresh from the garden leeks this coming January.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

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