In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
November, 2005
Regional Report

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Buckets of green tomatoes and green peppers are safe and sound in the warm house. Now what do I do with them?

Frost Has Finally Put the Garden to Bed

I've had to finally admit that the season is over and I'd better bring in the garden before losing it to a hard freeze. Now I have buckets of green tomatoes and green peppers sitting in the kitchen, awaiting preservation.

Actually, I love this time of the year. Putting the garden in is wonderful, but I enjoy taking it out almost as much. To see the clean beds ready for next season's seeds gives me a great feeling, almost one of anticipation.

Out With the Old, In With the New
I use deep straw mulch on my beds every year, and although it's tempting just to leave it in place over the winter, I've found it actually makes for a better garden the following year if I remove it. It's such a natural spot for pests to overwinter that it's best to take it away. I'm lucky in that I have a nearby field where I can just pile it, and after a couple of years I have some wonderful compost to use on the garden.

Once I pull the straw off the beds, they are ready to receive amendments. It takes a little extra work on my part, but that's good for me as well. With the weather finally cold, it feels great to work up a sweat shoveling compost, manure, or leaves to incorporate into the soil.

I also remove all garden debris to help control pests. Cucumber beetles love to snuggle down under old cucumber vines for the winter. Flea beetles (my scourge) thrive when left to spend the winter underneath potato vines and eggplant foliage. So, I move all my plant debris off to a distant compost pile that hopefully heats up enough to do away with the critters.

I have currants and blueberries planted in one of my garden beds, and rather than leave their mulch in place, I also remove it in November, pile it in the compost, and replace the mulch with freshly shredded leaves. The leaves tend to work down into the soil through the growing season, so often there's not much left to remove at this time of year. But since these shrubs are adjacent to the garden, I don't want to take the chance that their mulch will also harbor trouble for the following season.

Once the vegetable garden is finished, I can tackle the fruit trees. We harvested most of the apples, pears, and plums, but some fell and are rotting on the ground. Of course, this is the ideal place for pest insects and fungal spores to spend the winter. Cleaning up all the fallen fruits, as well as any still hanging on the tree, is a great way to get rid of plum curculios, codling moths, brown rot, and black knot fungi.

Now all I have to do is find enough jars to put up 70 pints of green tomato relish!


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