Don't you just love October? Most days, it's still warm enough to head out into the garden with a light sweater, but chilly fall evenings are a great excuse to cozy up beside the fire with a good book. Last week, overnight temperatures at my place dipped down into the low thirties, flirting with frost. That means it's time to cover my tender plants with hoop-houses and begin autumn chores in the potager.
Fall is a great time to reevaluate vegetable gardens, and consider changes for next year. Step inside the garden with a notebook and have a look at what did well and what didn't, what's worth trying again and what isn't. Are there crops you would like to plant more of, or would less of a particular vegetable do? Were pests and diseases a problem, and if so, where? These are all good end-of-the-season questions, and the answers can help you tremendously in seasons yet to come. For years now, I've kept a garden journal, and I've found that it really helps guide me in my planning and planting each season.
Rotating crops and companion planting are two important keys to organic gardening. And I've discovered that it really helps to draw a map of my garden, and write down what I planted where and when, in order to avoid repeat-sowing in the same spot next year. By moving crops to a different location each season, I am able to avoid many disease and insect infestations in my garden. Louise Riotte's classic garden book, Carrots Love Tomatoes, is my favorite go-to-resource on companion planting. Wondering where to plant those garlic bulbs this fall, or how to discourage rodents with natural methods? Then this book is for you. Written in 1975, Riotte's no-nonsense style is as fresh, relevant, and witty today, as when it was first published. And more recently, I discovered Sally Jean Cunningham's Great Garden Companions. This book goes one step further, including up-to-the-minute information on organic gardening methods—such as where to buy beneficial insects—soil testing, amending and composting methods, as well as instructions for easy-to-build projects, perfect for the do-it-yourself enthusiast.
And speaking of building projects… Need to add more raised beds or a new compost bin? Autumn is a very good time to tackle structural improvements in the garden, building the boxes and bins you need well before next year's springtime planting rush. Hoping to extend the growing season or get a jump on next year's planting? Small hoop-houses and cold frames are pretty easy to build, requiring a minimum of tools and experience. There are many gardening resources out there, but it's hard to beat the simple economy and good sense of Mel Bartholomew and his All New Square Foot Gardening. For beginning vegetable gardeners, this classic title is often the first book I recommend. Whether your outdoor gardening space is large or small, Bartholomew's tips and techniques can help you make the most of it.
So before you spread out the compost blanket and put your garden to bed this fall, take advantage of the beautiful weather, and head out to the garden with an eye toward next year. Now is the perfect time to tidy up, finish up, and begin planning for next spring's garden.
How did your garden perform this year? Is there anything you plan to do differently next spring?
Michaela grew up gardening, studying plants, and picking organic produce on the family farm. When she isn't spreading compost or pruning shrubs, she can usually be found writing articles or giving seminars on all things gardening. Michaela has worked as a gardening professional for 15 years and is author of the popular blog, The Gardener’s Eden.