Gosh, its fall already – feels like a few weeks ago we were planting the spring garden. Kids are back at school, we feel a coolness in the air, so it must be time to prep the vegetable garden for spring.

~ Start the fall cleanup – pull up all your ‘done’ plants and haul them to the compost pile.
~ Green tomatoes can start heading indoors – you want them in ahead of a hard frost – tomatoes will ripen quickly on a kitchen windowsill or more slowly if you use the brown paper bag in a cool dry location trick. Also think about fried green tomatoes as a treat.
~ fall is a good time to add manures and compost to veggie gardens, you want these to start breaking down and reacting with your soil while it is still a little warm outside.
~ Perennials like strawberries and asparagus need a little thought. Do you want to move any to new locations or add more to your existing patch? Now is good time to do soil prep for spring, especially for asparagus that likes a trench. Think about adding mulch to your strawberries for added winter protection.

Hot versus Cold Manure
Ok – manure does not really come labelled ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ but you need to know a little about ‘hot’ manure – that is manures are high in nitrogen. Hot manures when ‘active’ can be steaming and hot to the touch. Horse and Chicken manures are considered hot and good sources of nitrogen. Never apply fresh manure directly to your plants. If you are using fresh manures it is best to create a hot pile and let the pile cool naturally, which might take up to 6 months. The good news about a hot pile is that as temps get hot they kill off harmful pests and weeds. Once cooled we like to add an inch or two of manure to the garden in the fall and then till or spade into the soil. Manure is worth the extra steps as it helps the soil structure as well as fertilizes. Vegetable gardens really respond to great soil and manure is a quick way to great soil. Bagged manures from your local garden centre are usually well aged.

Protecting and bring plants indoors
If you like to bring items indoors – this is the time to act – ahead of the first frost. From your herb garden look at parsley and chives as plants that can survive indoor for at least part of the winter. Rosemary cuttings can be brought in to start young plants for next year. As always use ‘indoor’ potting mix as you replant, as garden soil is too heavy and too full of organisms for windowsill gardening.

If you are trying to stretch a few extra days out of the season you might consider plant covers or adding extra mulch – the same techniques you use in spring trying to get plants out early. We prefer these as spring techniques as we think there is more bang for the buck in spring. But new transplants or that rare one-of-a-kind perennial might benefit from fall care.

Compost Parfait 
Fall and compost bins. We like to use a composter that lets air into the ‘pile’ and then we have less work to do turning the pile. But there is a trick – especially if you are trying to compost some fall leaves. A perfect compost pile has an assortment of items decomposing and needs some nutrients to feed the bacterial breakdown. That means that ‘just’ fall leaves will take forever and a day to compost. So we like to build our pile in levels – add a small layer of leaves – then add some shovels full of manure – then add more leaves and then a layer of kitchen waste then back to manure. You get the idea – think of it as a compost parfait! By co-mingling various materials you will speed up the composting process and improve the compost quality!

My favorite garden activity is sipping on a nice Merlot while strolling through my garden and my least favorite activity would be on hands and knees pulling weeds. Part of my dislike of weed pulling is that my knees do not like kneeling as much as they used to. So yes I use knee-pads (and complain loudly when I forget them). The gel filled knee-pads are pretty awesome; for your knees happiness or a Christmas gift for your favorite gardener.

By Laurie Scullin