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Intrepid Urban Farmer: Change of seasons and focus, putting the garden to sleep for the winter

By Ginger Dawson
Special to NKyTribune

The change of the seasons brings with it the change of focus in the garden.  From March through most of September, it seems that the effort is to get things going and to continue with a productive momentum.  This ride is full of exciting energy and tremendous reward — not just for me, but also those who benefit from the overflow of this effort.

Getting the seed started and hand-nurturing the little plants to change from tiny, tender little shoots into enormous — in some cases over 8-foot — monsters is an amazing thing to not only witness, but to know that you were instrumental in accomplishing.

There is nothing like it.  I wish all of you reading this could enjoy not only the incomparable taste of fresh produce, but also know the satisfaction of growing it.

Ok.  Enough with the life-coach schtick.

Eggplants main stems and roots were spectacular this year. The roots were over two feet.

Asparagus bed cut back and straw pulled up to its chin. Ready for winter.

Bed cleaned up and amended with manure. Ready for the garlic crop

What you really need to know is that it is a good thing that it is so damn fulfilling, because it’s a LOT OF WORK.

All season, I prune, weed, feed, spray, mow, pick, preserve, deliver to people, cook, read, study and most importantly–EAT (the best part).  I do this with a drive similar to a coyote after a toy poodle.  I can’t account for it.

It’s been my observation that everyone always seems to like the idea of gardening, but few are willing to do the work.    We true gardeners are a rare breed.  I think we’re nuts.  But the thing is, if you really are a true gardener, you can’t help yourself.  There’s got to be some psychological term for this.  Anyone?  

So now, here we are in October and the growing season is ending.  I suppose you might imagine that the work is mostly over.  HA.  

Now it’s time to put the garden to sleep for the winter.  This takes effort!  Of course!  And now, because I’ve made you aware that this gardening business is hard work, you need to know that every decision made and every step taken is in some way related to diminishing and managing this work.  Every step needs to be valuable in some way.  And this, in turn, will increase the pleasure you get from gardening.

You do this for yourself.  The people you give your overflow produce to don’t care.  Actually, if they had any idea of how much work you put into this they would probably be a little afraid of you.  And, of course the vegetables don’t care–they’re going to be eaten!  It’s just one long walk down the plank for them. 

In a sense, the end of season clean-up is just taking care of work in a more timely manner that will have to be done before you start a new garden next year.  Sooner or later you are going to have to get rid of the old, dead plants, clean and disinfect the plant supports and your tools.

There are quite a few reasons why it is best to do this at the end of the growing season and not put it off for next year.  First off, next year you’ll be more excited about the new season, and dealing with the remains of last year’s dead garden will delay your pleasure.  We cannot have this!

After gardening for a few years, your allotment of beginner’s luck will run out and every bug, beetle, insect and slug will catch wind of your operation and the word will get out–”Buffet behind the Italianate on Russell St.!”

I think the insects have a pipeline of communication going out to all of the blights, wilts and mildews, too.  Stinkers.

So, by cleaning up the trash (last year’s dead plant material), you are diminishing the amount of insect eggs, larvae, etc…that will be happy to just wake up, roll over and start munching.  At least make them have to travel a little!  

And the same for blights, wilts and mildews–they need to have push-back, too.  Now, here’s the thing–buggy and diseased plants should not be composted.  It’s highly unlikely that your compost pile will get hot enough to eradicate the trouble.  Every old plant that exhibits any damage along these lines must be bagged up and set out for trash collection.  

My favorite part of clean-up is pulling up the plant roots; inspecting them and cutting the main stem towards the bottom of the plant to see how the vascular system held up.  This will help you diagnose any particular blights or wilts you may have experienced. In having really good, productive plants, the name of the game is in a good root system, in my opinion.  All of my seed starting and subsequent planting is focused on root development and I need to see how successful I am.  There is nothing more pleasant than pulling up a tomato plant with roots over two feet long.  I know that this is a somewhat singular pleasure.  I just can’t help it.

One thing I like to do when I’m dismembering plants and bagging them is to think about the viability of that particular variety for next year.  How did it do? Were the yields good? Did it succumb to blights?  Bugs?

When you garden in a relatively small space for a number of years, cleanliness is very important.  Tools and plant supports should be cleaned and disinfected.  I spray my plants supports with water and then spray them down with isopropyl alcohol.  This is a deterrent for blights and mildews, mostly.

Now, I know this sounds like an awful lot of work.  And why do I do it?  Because I have to.  I know there’s just got to be a name for this kind of crazy.


Ginger Dawson has resided in Covington, Kentucky since 1988. Raised on a farm in South Central Ohio, she has enjoyed a very eclectic and enriching life. She loves her Italianate Victorian Townhouse and particularly the garden behind it.

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  1. Roger Auge II says:

    Excellent information, well written, with touches of humor, and a wheelbarrow load of good information.
    Now, in spring, when garden preparation is underway, I invite Ms. Dawson to the house for a day
    of shoveling, raking, and planting. Of course, there will be supervision.

  2. Beth Dunn says:

    I’m a non-gardener, but found this article very funny and educational. Thanks for penning it.

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