The Modern Victory Garden


Managing the Late Fall Garden

Posted on November 4, 2011 at 12:25 AM

The mid-week blog updates are getting more challenging lately.   The leaves have turned on our trees but are largely still attached to the branches.   Once they are off the trees I will be raking them up and composting them, or using them to mulch and protect the artichoke plants, but for now it is not time yet to do that.                                       




The garden beds with winter crops are growing (albeit very slowly now) under the extra protection of a grow tunnel; or in containers in the greenhouse; or for extra hardy items - exposed but covered with bird netting to keep my hens out of them.   The fall and winter crops do not require much care during the dark days of winter as the weeds are not growing much either, and the soil stays moist for long periods (even when covered) due to the colder temps and damp conditions.   There will be very minimal watering and weeding chores for the next four months.          


The spent summer crops have been removed and the plant debris added to the compost bin.   The garlic has been planted.   The pumpkins have been brought into the warm house to finish ripening since they were so late setting this year and did not quite make it to the finish line before the cold fall rains arrived.   To summarize, there just is not that much going on out in the garden at the moment worth talking about.   However, the food production garden still occupies my mind quite a lot during the late fall and winter season even if I am not physically in it very much at this time.   If you are serious (like I am) about providing for all of your family’s vegetable needs from the garden, there are several important management issues to stay focused on during this low period in the garden season.               


First, I have to really be careful to avoid overharvesting the winter hardy and protected crops.   A fall / winter garden is really nothing more than plants that have been grown to a mature state prior to the arrival of the really short and dark days of winter and then held in a state of near dormancy for fresh harvesting as needed.   If the plants are mature enough and hardy enough to survive winter conditions (usually with the assistance of some protective cover) they will provide a fresh source of food.   However, with the diminished strength of the sun, much shorter day length, and cold winter temperatures, these plants may survive but are certainly not going to continue to grow much (if at all) and therefore will not bounce back after a harvest with new growth.   Particularly if your garden is like mine and goes into heavy shade during the winter months  because the winter sun sits so low on the horizon that it causes the trees that edge our property to block the sun for much of the day.   Given this fact, a sufficiently large amount of crops must have been grown to provide adequate fall / winter supply and harvesting must be done judiciously to spread the benefit of the fresh harvests out over the greatest period of time possible.   The trick is to use stored and preserved items for the most part, but to augment that with regular infusions of fresh harvests.   Having enough of both supplies and knowing how to pace yourself through each of them during the winter season is something that you pretty much have to learn through personal experience, because every garden's capacity to produce, and every family’s needs, are going to be different.   Unfortunately, just as you start thinking you’re getting pretty good at balancing both parts of the equation (fresh harvests and stored items) something changes to mix it up again!   In our case, our daughter moved away to attend college and suddenly the household I was feeding was down by one person.        


Another critical component of keeping the garden working as much as possible throughout the year is to keep the pipeline going that adds new items to the growing mix.   There is a window of time in the late fall where I stop planting anything and I am currently in that time period, but it does not last very long.   By the end of December or first part of January, I am starting hardy greens inside under grow lights and in the warmth of the house or shop, so that they are ready to be tucked in under the protection of the grow tunnel or greenhouse in early February (or soon afterwards) to take advantage of the gradual increase in day length and sun strength that starts really happening after Imbolc (most of us know it as Ground Hogs Day and is the mid-point between winter solstice and the spring equinox).   Plants begin responding to the increasing day length and sun strength and slightly warmer conditions by once again growing (although slowly in this early period).   Having some new crops coming along is a real help as the winter storage foods start becoming depleted in March and April, and the summer garden crops are still many months away at that point.   The steady schedule of regular succession planting really gets started thereafter and keeps going until once again late fall arrives.   While it is too early to start these next generation transplants, it is not too early to assess whether the seeds needed for this mid-winter seed starting are on hand.                                                                                


What is happening in your fall / winter garden and how are you doing on the levels of fresh harvests and stored items?   Are they keeping up with your vegetable needs?              





Categories: Fall/Winter Gardening, Season Extension, Garden Thoughts