I know it is time to take care of my garden for the Fall. Today I watched out the window as a neighbor boy crawled on his hands and knees to get under the cascade that my fennel makes over my sidewalk. Like so much in our lives, we let it grow wild, and it’s falling over from the weight of all of its beautiful, licorice-y leaves. It’s time to call the fennel done, collect the seeds, and dry what leaves I can—maybe find a homemade licorice recipe that uses fennel seeds as a substitute for anise seeds. (If you have such a recipe, please send it. My children think this is a fine idea.)
What else should you do to prepare your garden for Fall?
What your area needs depends on climate. If you are a new gardener or even an experienced gardener, your local university agricultural extension service may be sending out helpful newsletters about now. My local ag school sent a newsletter last week about garlic, and I’m ready to plant garlic bulbs as soon as we have our first frost.
Until then, it’s a great time to plant flower bulbs. Fall bulbs have a chance to take root before the ground freezes.
Some herbs can be put into a pot and grown indoors through the winter. I may aspire to this, but I don’t generally get to it.
Before the frost (and before they flower), it’s time to cut the herbs and hang them to dry. We have a massive amount of mint, and I see a lot of mint tea coming our way this winter. Dry the herbs by tying them together in bundles and hanging them upside down. This allows the oils to flow to the leaves. We expect a few days of 70 degree temperatures this week, so this is an ideal time to start herbs drying before the real cold rolls in.
Fall is a time to re-seed and repair lawn. What little lawn I have is still recovering from new sprinklers installed a year ago, so I’m trying to level the lawn and keep it from being a pond during big rain storms.
If you fertilize your lawn, consider making compost tea. This involves creating a friendly environment for the micro-organisms you want to spread all over your lawn. The simplest way the make compost tea is to put a quart or two of your compost in a bag that will let water flow without letting the compost itself flow. Hang the tea bag into a 5-gallon bucket filled with water after you let the water sit for a day (if you are using chlorinated municipal water). The tea needs to be aerated to encourage the micro-organisms, so an aquarium pump comes in very handy as you bubble your tea for 2-3 days. You aren’t quite done yet, though. The micro-organisms need food to thrive, so add 2 Tablespoons of molasses. After a few days, you have a naturally beneficial liquid you can spread across your lawn.
You don’t have to wait until fall to do this. Kids love to check in on (sniff around) brewing compost. If you get in the habit of feeding your lawn and garden with your own brew, you can experiment with different foods for the bacteria, like seaweed or lemon juice.
While you’re poking around the compost, water and turn it before it freezes.
Don’t leave your garden soil bare. Cover crops add organic matter and prevents soil erosion. Then, in the Spring, you can turn the crops back into the soil.
An appropriate crop depends completely on your area, so check what local master gardeners recommend. You may find that red clover or bachelor’s buttons work in your area, which means you also add color.
I have yet to find a good cover crop that can thrive in my soil, so I often end up just adding compost and clippings. If you don’t add cover crops, at least cover bare areas with mulch or some other cover.
Today is the day my children and I harvest herbs, but we have several garden chores lined up for the week. We love this time when it’s pleasant outside without being hot or cold, the dog sniffing everywhere, snacking on the cherry tomatoes, and feeling great about feeding ourselves even in our very small way.