Northern Gardening: Tending to the fall garden

What happened to summer this year? It feels like we barely had two weeks of it. The cool weather has settled in, with cool days and cold nights in the forecast. Most gardens have performed reasonably well. Now the question is what to bring in, what to protect and what can stay in the garden until after a few frosts.

Root vegetables can stay in the ground until the ground starts to freeze. Some can stay in the ground until spring if given a layer of mulch. I have done this with parsnips and they were lovely in the spring. Carrots and beets are fine until later. This year, I tried turnip-rooted parsley, seeded early and again a few weeks later. I have harvested the early seeding, just to check them out. They look like long, white carrots and have a pleasant mild flavour. The later seeding I will leave in the ground until after a few frosts.

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Potatoes are another matter. The tubers can be left late, but I don’t like digging potatoes from cold, wet soil. Ideally, potatoes can be left until the foliage dies down naturally. I leave mine until the leaves start to yellow, then cut off the top growth. Leaving the potatoes in the ground for another week or two toughens the skin for improved storage. Of course, it is always nice to savour a few young potatoes earlier. Just feel around in the ground under the plant for a potato or two and pull it out.

Cabbage, kale, cauliflower and broccoli will continue to grow in cool fall weather. They can handle a few light frosts. Broccoli will continue to grow side shoots once the main head is cut. Zucchini, pumpkins and other squash can be harvested after the foliage is killed by frost as long as the frost was not heavy enough to damage the fruit (yes, botanically, they are a fruit).

Tomatoes are the plants most likely to get extra attention in the fall. Do you cover them for frost protection? Do you harvest the green tomatoes before frost is in the forecast? I have done both over the years. One thing I have learned is that tomatoes do not like to be chilled. If they can be protected for a couple of nights of frost and warm weather follows, that is great. However, if the days are also cool, 10 degrees or lower, it is best to harvest the tomatoes to ripen in the house. Tomatoes left on the plants in cool weather will not store well. In our climate, it is inevitable that we will harvest green tomatoes, however late we harvest them.

The next article will discuss storing your crop.


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