10 Things To Do In The Garden This Fall

Gardening is an almost year-round endeavor in Northwest Iowa (specifically USDA zone 5) for Woodbury County. Once the harvest is in, there is still much to do to ready the garden for the following year! 

  1. Plant garlic for next year. We harvest our fall-planted garlic in July the following year. Come fall (shortly before the first frost), you will want to plant new or saved garlic cloves. This July, we harvested about 100 garlic bulbs. Each variety was planted in mid-September of 2020. The garlic needs to dry before it can be stored. Some save garlic heads to share, replant, or roast with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh rosemary from the garden. There is nothing better to remind you of your laborious love in the garden than fresh herbs and vegetables on your plate. 
  2. Clean your garden of all leftover plants. Cleaning up the garden will reduce the chances of disease and future problems.
  3. Use your leaves as mulch. Once clean-up is done, rake leaves and, if possible, shred them. (A mulching mower that bags both grass and leaves will do the trick here.) Use them in the garden as mulch, raking them to an even level. No trip to the dump for your leaves! They are helping your garden!  Water them down at this point. Our leaf mulch is often 3-5 inches deep for the winter season. In the spring, the fall mulch will have composted on its own and become compost in the garden as we hand or rototill it in. Using leaves in the garden is a wonderful way to continue to teach kids in the garden. Not only do they enjoy raking them up and jumping in them, which helps break them down, but it also educates them on life cycle, recycling, and decomposition. 
  4. If you have been harvesting throughout the season, try your hand at canning or freezing your produce to eat throughout the long Midwest winter. With a slight blanching, most veggies can be frozen. We like to pressure can tomatoes, salsas, and occasionally other veggies. An excellent resource for canning and preserving fruits and vegetables is https://www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/preserve-taste-summer which includes courses and publications available that are research-based. There is nothing so satisfying as opening a can of your ginger peach jam in January and spreading it on toast.
  5. Help the birds and insects through the winter by leaving some tall stalks with perennial flower seed heads intact. These not only make beautiful winter landscapes, but they make tasty treats for the birds. Long grasses are beneficial to the birds and insects during the winter. 
  6. Clean out your pots and grow bags. At the end of every season, it is important to clean your pots and bags to get them ready for the next year. Cleaning helps prevent disease being carried over to the next gardening term. Another advantage to the cleanout is to save ceramic pots, which tend to crack if you leave the soil in them. 
  7. Collect seeds. If there are annuals, perennials, or even favorite vegetables you wish to try again another year, let seed heads age on the plant, and just before they start dropping, claim those seeds for your own. These seeds can be stored or shared with family and friends to grow during the next garden season.  A great resource for this is Seed Savers Exchange https://www.seedsavers.org/, where a course is offered on learning how to save seeds.
  8. Think about drip irrigation for your vegetable and perennial garden beds. Many gardeners create drip irrigation by using hose connectors, simple measurements, shears, and forethought for planning their garden course of irrigation. This can be as simple as laying soaker hoses through the plots, using landscape staples to secure them, and then hooking up a hose or directional Y’s and specified hoses designated for gardens. Doing what meets your needs for your garden, your budget, and your body are the primary goals of drip irrigation. Often, this simple solution, done in the off-season, will help save money, time, and stress in the long run. 
  9. Composting! This is gold. As gardeners, we strive to constantly rejuvenate our soil. We take from the soil, and we give to the soil as part of the soil food chain. With our own food scraps, in the right way, it is wonderful to spread our very own compost. This is also a golden lesson to share with kids. Not only do they learn about refreshing their soil in their backyard, but they also learn about decreasing waste that is sent to their local dump. There are a variety of compost options. Do some research to see what works best for your yard and your family. You might also want to try vermicomposting where a few red wiggler worms will create compost for you from your kitchen scraps. Try the book: Worms Eat My Garbage, by Mary Appelhof, Flower Press (ISBN 0-942256-10-7). Kids love helping to feed the worms, and it is a simple compost building opportunity to connect the whole family to life cycles and healthy gardening. 
  10. Bring plants that can be overwintered into the house. Several annuals can overwinter inside your house with the right conditions. The first condition for all plants being moved inside is light. Choose the right light location, avoiding drafts for the fall and winter. Often, additional grow lights can be added for better results. In many cases, during the fall we see gardeners start to bring in their favorite geraniums. Geraniums are known for their ability to be enjoyed indoors, and then hardened off to be appreciated once more for another season outside.  Likewise, annual loving gardeners, who plant cannas, elephant ear, and more learn that these can be relocated inside, wiped clean of soil, and wrapped in newspaper, and stored in the dark until spring. Similarly, many herbs can be gently lifted from the soil or transplanted into a pot and brought inside to enjoy throughout the winter. 
  11. BONUS__Start watching for seed catalogs. Be thinking about what you want for next year. This starts as soon as the harvest is in, the garden is cleaned, the leaves are mulched, and the produce and seeds and plants are where they need to be for winter. Seed catalogs start coming in December. Be thinking, be planning, be exploring. 
  12. BONUS__ Start planting your own seeds under lights inside according to package directions. Some will be in early February…and progress from there. You may get “the bug” and need light systems to grow more of your own plants. This will increase the varieties you can plant. 
  13. BONUS: Contact Woodbury County Extension and enroll in the Master Gardener Program,   https://www.extension.iastate.edu/mastergardener/become-master-gardener. Contact Shawn Tabke at tabkes@iastate.edu 

FINALLY, as you plan for next year consider planning to “plant, grow, share” following the motto of Up from the Earth. Follow us on Facebook and check out our website at https://upfromtheearth.wixsite.com/siouxland  Join the many gardeners sharing fresh produce each season to supply local food pantries to increase food security in our area. Whether your donation is small or large, it will be truly appreciated. Collection sites are listed on our website and on our Facebook page.

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