That veggie garden is full of colors: orange, red, yellow, and green. It might not be coming from the foliage, but it is coming from the fruits of your summertime labor. The fall crop is still coming on, but it is almost time to say good-bye.
When you see those dying vines, you know it is time to put the vegetable garden to bed for the winter. Pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, squash, gourds, and other late-season vegetables are strong enough to withstand these cool nights. But once we see frosty overnight temperatures more frequently, you will see all of those bright colors in the garden turn yellow and black.
You might see a few blossoms left on the vines, but don't get too excited. Matt Ross, Owens Community College faculty member of urban agriculture, says those blooms won't get too far. "By the time it would take the flowers to turn into squash, it would be well past their time and we will be into the freezing temperatures."
He recommends going through the entire garden and harvesting anything left on the vine. If the tomatoes are green, you can pick them and they will ripen in a bright window. Pull all of the other vegetables off and keep them in a cool dry place.
Start with the sticks
Once you get all of the usable fruit out of the garden and stored properly, it is time to start taking it apart. Start with the sticks and stakes that are holding everything up. Toss them in a weak solution of bleach water to get rid of any unwanted bacteria. If you were really on the ball, you might have put down a layer of landscape cloth in the vegetable garden before you began planting.
"That's what we do in our community garden at Owens Community College," Mr. Ross said. "The landscape cloth helps hold moisture in the soil throughout the growing season and suppresses the weeds." Once the plants start to fade, he said to follow the vines down to their point of origin in the soil and clip the entire vine at the soil line. This debris can be composted.
Make two piles
If you are able to burn lawn debris in your neighborhood, make two piles. One will be for the compost pile and the other will be for the burn pile. If the vines are withering away, they can go on the compost pile with any decaying vegetables.
But if you see lots of black spots and signs of disease, toss that on the burn pile. If your neighborhood doesn't allow you to burn, include it in your trash pickup. Some of these fungal spores can linger in the soil and cause more problems next year.
But don't be sad. You aren't done planting for the year. You should cover up all of that valuable topsoil and enrich it with even more nitrogen. You can do that with Mother Nature's help. Once you get all of the old plants out of the way, till the soil one last time. Rake the big clumps out of the garden and plant a cover crop.
"A cover crop will help hold your soil in place over the winter and protect it from blowing away in the wind or shifting locations, for example, if it were covered with ice," Mr. Ross said.
Cover crops such as winter rye, buckwheat, clover, hardy legumes, or oilseed radishes will germinate quickly and do the trick.
"You just till these crops under once the soil warms in the spring. They will give your garden a boost of nitrogen in the spring," Mr. Ross said.
Contact Kelly Heidbreder at firstname.lastname@example.org.