Autumn Sustainable Gardening Tips
The sun is rising later and setting earlier. With the setting sun comes a cool evening breeze. The plants are starting to dry and seed pods are beginning to form. The harvest is winding down. The first of the leaves are beginning to loose their green. Autumn is quickly approaching.
Autumn is my favorite time of year in the garden. Much is happening and the primordial pull to gather, preserve, stock up, and nest before the first Winter storm is very strong. Autumn, with it’s cooler temperatures, presents the perfect time to do our best gardening work. It is the work that prepares our garden for the following growing season. As a Master Gardener, here are my fall sustainable gardening tips:
Harvest & Store
Harvest remaining herbs, fruits and vegetables to use and store for winter. Store root vegetables in a root cellar. I am short on space, so I layer my beets, carrots, and potatoes in 1-2 inches of slightly moist sand in metal buckets. This seals them in just enough moisture (with low oxygen levels) to hold for 3-4 months. Carrots that haven’t developed to their full size can over-winter underground but need to be insulated with bags of leaves or heavy mulch. Cure freshly harvested onions and garlic by hanging them to dry until the outer-layers of the skins dry. This preserves the freshness of the bulbs inside. Store in a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight. Onions can also overwinter under snow, so any onions that aren’t ready to be pulled out of the ground can stay. Cure freshly cut herbs by bundling them and hanging them to dry, out of direct sunlight and in an area with good air circulation. Once the leaves are dried, crumple the dried plant material into glass storage containers to keep for winter use. Other summer produce can be pickled in vinegar, canned, turned into jams, dehydrated, or frozen.
Gather dried seed pods from the plants that flowered. Extract seeds from pods by either shaking them out, or cracking open the pods. Store seeds in labeled containers to re-plant come Spring.
Celebrate the Fall Equinox
Each Equinox is a milestone in the solar cycle worth celebrating. Marking the first day of Autumn, the Equinox is a time to celebrate the arrival of a new season and give thanks for what we have helped the earth grow. I like to celebrate with a bonfire gathering where I burn the dead plant material collected from my garden beds. I also like to use this day to turn to my Autumn Inner Gardening Practices.
Autumn gardening presents a wonderful opportunity to rewild our spirit by syncing with the Autumn season through slow and mindful living practices.
To aid you in your efforts to mindfully sync with the Autumnal season, I have created a workbook full of journal prompts that coincide with mindfulness practices and the Autumn gardening tips I’ve shared. The questions we ask ourselves in this journaling practice inspires a deep internal work and cultivation of true connection to nature, to the self, and to a slower pace of life. Download my FREE workbook here! If you don’t have access to my Archive, simply subscribe, then you’ll always have access to all the free resources I create!
After the Fall Equinox on September 22nd, decrease watering cadence and volume. The plant’s growing cycles are slowing so they don’t require much water. Allow the natural precipitation to provide enough water.
In late fall, mow lawn to 2 inches in height, then fertilize.
Clean out beds
Remove weeds and all dead plant matter from garden beds. Any plant matter left in the ground invites disease into the soil, so it’s important to keep the beds clean. Mow leaves and add dead plant matter to compost pile. Don’t put diseased or pest-ridden plant material in compost. After the first frost, remove dead branches from trees and perennials. Don’t prune trees or perennials (cutting live parts of the plant) because it could spur growth when the plant’s energy needs to be moving into the roots for dormancy. Save pruning until late Winter/Early Spring.
Stop adding fresh material to the compost pile in September. Allow current accrual of compost to sit and decompose for 3-4 weeks. Make sure the pile is as moist as a wrung out sponge. Add 1-2 shovels of garden soil, churn to mix thoroughly, then let the compost pile sit in the sun to build heat so the microbes in the soil will break down the solid plant matter. Before the ground freezes, add soil amendments to garden beds and mix in compost into the top 6 inches of the soil. Then, restart a new compost pile for next year’s application.
Plant trees, perennial shrubs, spring bulb flowers, and garlic. Provide one round of light fertilization using liquid fish emulsion.
Put the Garden to Bed
Stop all supplemental watering. Allow plants to go dormant over winter. Clean gardening tools and gloves. Scrape dirt off the tools with a wire brush, then sanitize using a mixture of vinegar, water, and alcohol. Condition any wood with olive oil, walnut oil, or grape-seed oil and a little melted beeswax. Use the same mixture to hydrate leather gloves after cleaning.
The dead of winter is wonderful time plan the garden layout and plants for Spring. Use this time to research new plants, order seeds, and make plans for next years growing season. Depending on the climate and gardening enthusiasm, Winter can also be a time for outdoor gardening in the right conditions. In colder climates, cold-frames or greenhouse structures can be used to grow cold-hearty vegetables throughout the winter season. If you want to delve into winter gardening, install a sturdy cover over your garden beds using strong clear plastic and wood or metal frames. This cold-frame will act as insulation and protect the plants from frosts and snow during the winter.