Plant Now for a Fall Harvest

Regardless of whether you are in the midst of harvesting tomatoes, cucumbers and beans galore, or whether you never got around to planting anything this year (or you’re somewhere in between), now is a great time to plant for a fall harvest!

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Fall harvest of parsley, kale and rainbow chard from my garden last year.

 

Many of the same plants that thrive in springtime can be planted now to harvest in the fall. As an added bonus, plants such as kale and carrots are often sweeter when grown in the fall than they are when grown in the spring.

Choose seeds that thrive in cool weather and require a short period of time until they reach maturity, such as lettuce, kale, beets and chard. For more suggestions on what to plant, take a look at the Hudson Valley Seed Library’s “Sow What” page . The Hudson Valley Seed Library is a good source of heirloom and open pollinated seeds. Since Bedford (plant hardiness zone 6) is slightly warmer than Accord, NY (zone 5a) where the Hudson Valley Seed Library is located, starting seeds one week after the date listed on the Hudson Valley seed starting chart would be ideal here. According to the list, recommended seeds to start now include: Arugula, Beets, Bok Choy, Carrots, Chinese Cabbage, Komatsuna, Lettuce, Mibuna/Mizuna, Mustard Greens, Swiss Chard, Tatsoi and Turnips.

If you happen to have an empty garden bed, fall planting is easy. If not, you can create a new garden bed by placing cardboard or newspaper directly on top of a section of lawn, and covering it with compost. (See the end of this blog post for pictures and further explanation.)

No empty planting bed or new area available?   Try planting seeds in between and underneath your summer plants. If you grow strawberries, sprinkle some lettuce seeds around them. The strawberry leaves will provide shade, cooling the soil and helping to create a cooler, moister microenvironment in which the lettuce seedlings will thrive.

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Here is a photo of my strawberries underplanted with lettuce.

Another way to squeeze in more plants for a fall harvest is to mix them with your ornamentals. Some plants are not only edible, but also fun to display. Planting rainbow chard together with sweet alyssum along a front path is both playful and easy to harvest. Read more about this from Tenth Acre Farm here.

Without extra protection, even the hardiest of cool weather plants will usually succumb to the cold by December in our area. Last year I had some parsley that my family enjoyed harvesting through December, but then it finally wilted.

It is possible to extend the gardening season into the winter months by covering your gardens to insulate them from the cold.   While many different materials ranging from old sheets and blankets to clear plastic can protect your garden against the cold, some newer materials such as polypropylene fabric row covers are permeable to light and air allowing winter gardens to flourish beneath the snow. This wonderful blog post by Mother of a Hubbard shows how fabric row covers were used to keep a school garden viable all winter long. Benefits of winter gardening include no pests, no watering, and almost no maintenance other than harvesting!

So, go find your seeds, buy some new ones, or acquire some from a friend or neighbor, and plant a few. You’ll be happy you did in a couple of months when you’re eating homegrown produce in the fall!

Got Mulch?

Use mulch!

Use mulch!

Interested in watering your garden less, having fewer weeds, and having richer soil?   Use mulch!  If you already use mulch, use more mulch!

Adding mulch is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your garden. Mulch is anything that you apply on top of soil to cover it, such as straw, shredded leaves, wood chips or even newspaper or kitchen scraps.  Mulch keeps weed seeds from germinating and moisture from evaporating.

One of the strongest proponents of using mulch in the garden was Ruth Stout, author of such garden classics as, How to have a green thumb without an aching back.  Ruth Stout found that with year-round mulching, her prolific vegetable garden in Connecticut required no watering all summer!   If you are not familiar with Ruth Stout, take a look at this excerpt from her book, Gardening Without Work, or even better watch this  video of her. It’s a gem!

In addition to preventing weeds from germinating and soil moisture from escaping, organic mulch will slowly decompose and create rich soil.

The mulch bin at the Beaver Dam facility

The mulch bin at the Beaver Dam facility

Did you know that free mulch and compost are available to Town of Bedford residents?

The Beaver Dam facility processes all of the leaves and wood waste that the Town of Bedford collects, both from residents and from town properties.  (This is where the leaves that are piled into streets in the fall end up.)

This yard waste is turned into mulch and compost, available for free to town residents, completing the cycle. To find out how to get mulch from the Beaver Dam facility, click here.

Want mulch that’s even more local than Town of Bedford mulch?  Next fall, don’t even bother raking your leaves onto the street.  Instead, transform your leaves into mulch right where they fall.  To find out how, visit Leaves Leaves Alone.

Wet it down and add cardboard.

Wet it down and add cardboard.

Using mulch:

  1. Spread mulch between plants in your garden.  Anywhere where there is bare soil, is a great place to spread mulch.  If you want to plant seeds or plants in an area that is covered in mulch, just push the mulch to to the side, and plant in the soil.
  2. Avoid making a mulch volcano around trees.  Contrary to what you often see, it’s best not to build a mountain of mulch against a tree trunk.  Doing so can actually harm the tree.   The mulch should surround the tree, but not touch the trunk of the tree.  For more information see, Cornell gardening resources: Too much mulch can kill!
  3. Use mulch on top of cardboard or newspaper to define borders, such as between your lawn and your edible or flower garden.  This method is also excellent for creating new vegetable beds:
    The mulch will break down over time into wonderful, rich soil

    The mulch will break down over time into wonderful, rich soil

    • Place corrugated cardboard or several layers of newspaper on top of the lawn or whatever area you would like to reclaim.
    • Wet it down, and add several inches of mulch on top.
    • The cardboard will keep the weeds from germinating for a long time.  Meanwhile the mulch will slowly break down and turn into wonderful, rich soil.

Happy mulching!

Free Mulch and Compost Available to Town of Bedford Residents

Mulch and compost are free to Town of Bedford residents

Mulch and compost are free to Town of Bedford residents

The Beaver Dam facility processes all of the leaves and wood waste that the Town of Bedford collects, both from residents and from town properties.  (If you ever wondered what happens to the leaves and bags of yard waste that residents leave out on the curb, this is where they end up.)

Residents can also bring their yard waste right to the facility, provided that logs are no larger than 6″ in diameter.

This yard waste is turned into mulch and compost, available for free to town residents, completing the cycle.

The mulch bib

The mulch bin

One great benefit of using mulch from the Beaver Dam facility is that it is local, so less fossil fuel is used compared to hauling in mulch from far away.

The facility is operated by Westwood Organic and is open M-F from 7:30-3:15.

 

The facility

The facility

 

 

Take a Trip to the Westwood Facility:

Turn north onto Beaver Dam Road from Harris Road.   Keep right at the signs for Westwood Organic Recycling and the Beaver Dam Canine Commons Area.

Following the turn off, you’ll come to a split in the road.  Stay right to reach Westwood.

On the right, there are two bins for helping yourself to mulch and compost and a third bin for dropping of yard waste (brush, leaves, branches and logs up to 6″ diameter).

Shoveling the mulch

Shoveling the mulch

The bins are regularly replenished with mulch and compost.  I went on the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend, and the mulch bin was almost empty.  The following week, the bin had plenty of mulch.

Bring your own shovel and some containers or a tarp for your car, and help yourself to the mulch.

I brought some empty garbage bags to carry the mulch home.

Note:  Trucks larger than pickup trucks are not permitted.

Click here for more information about the facility from the Town of Bedford.

Use Mulch!

Outsmarting deer, groundhogs and other wildlife

Here in Bedford, in addition to making sure your edible plants receive plentiful sun and sufficient water, successful gardening requires outsmarting deer, groundhogs and other critters. Depending on how close you are to the center of town or the edge of the woods, deer might occasionally visit or be a constant presence.

My first few years gardening in Katonah were met with mixed success. Not used to living in deer-country, I was dismayed to find the tomatoes I planted were eaten just as the fruit ripened. Over the years, my family tried various strategies such as surrounding our garden with snow fencing, which proved cumbersome and not terribly effective.

Just how many deer are there? Nearby parks and nature preserves, such as Muscoot Farm, Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, Mountain Lakes Park, and Mianus River Gorge actively monitor the deer population. Surveys conducted estimate the deer populations on their lands to be in the range of 15-50 deer per square mile. Unless predators like coyotes, foxes and bobcats make a strong resurgence, deer will likely continue to venture further and further from the woods.

So what to do if you are new to edible gardening or if you are looking to expand your garden?

1. Grow plants that deer and groundhogs leave alone. I’ve had luck growing onions, chives, scallions, garlic and asparagus without fencing of any kind for over a decade, and I’ve seen no sign of nibbling. For more about growing asparagus, see Ten reasons why you should grow asparagus and All about growing asparagus.

Asparagus spears growing

In the spring, asparagus spears pop right out of the soil. The deer and groundhogs leave mine alone.

 

2. Grow a few edibles in pots on your front porch, or other locations that deer are less likely to approach. Read more about making the most of microenvironments that are inaccessible to deer and groundhogs here.

Basil growing in pot

Basil growing in a container on the porch

3. Cage-in individual beds or plants. This works especially well with low-growing plants like strawberries, lettuce, kale, chard, beets and spinach, and keeps out birds in addition to deer, groundhogs and rabbits. Read more about the cage I found most effective here.

strawberries overhanging in cage

A cage of strawberries!

 

4. For the ultimate in animal proofing, fence in your entire property or a large portion of it.   Keep in mind that deer can jump high, and they can jump far, but they do not do both at the same time. This means that eight foot high deer fencing will work, but so will a double fence consisting of two four foot high fences spaced about five feet apart from each other. Depending on your layout, a shorter, double fence might be more visually appealing than a taller, single fence. Deer, in general, avoid entering small, enclosed areas where there is not enough room for them to take a running leap to get out. To provide protection against groundhogs, which also burrow, the fence should extend a foot underground. Bending the top of the fence outwards is also recommended to deter groundhogs from climbing over. Some folks find that three rows of fishing line attached to corner posts is sufficient to keep the deer out of an area. However, if groundhogs are also an issue, this might not be effective. For more on fencing, take a look at just saying no to deer, with fencing.

5. Spook the wildlife.   A variety of tactics may be used to spook the deer and send them on their way. Anything that moves or makes a loud noise has the potential to deter deer. These include motion-activated sprinklers, noisemakers, scarecrows, and high-energy dogs. The tricky part is that these “deer spooks” must continually be novel. Once deer become habituated to noises or motions, they no longer run away from them.

6. I have not tried approaches such as using natural, organic sprays or odors (urine, hair, pepper). Have you?

Have critters beat you to your harvest? What’s your best tip for outsmarting the critters?