Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fall Clean-up Time

There's a reason that my husband learned a clean-up song during kindergarten - the singing distracts five-year-olds from the fact that cleaning is not very fun.

Each month, I have been reading Notes from the Garden by Henry Homeyer, the local gardening guru in my region. This book is a collection of his newspaper columns, organized by month, and I've been reading along as the months go by. The essay collection is wide-ranging on the topic of organic gardening and reminds me that I know very little about gardening. One of the October essays also gave me the kick in the pants that I needed to do a thorough job of fall garden clean-up this year. It's not as catchy as the clean-up song, but the essay certainly got the message across.

The kitchen garden at the Old Manse in Concord, MA - a bit of garden tourism during fall clean-up time.

The hardest part about fall garden clean-up is finding time to fit it in. There are so many other fun things that you could be doing - this year, Columbus Day weekend involved not one but two sets of family get-togethers, including a lovely visit to Concord and Lexington, MA and apple-cider-making. Unwilling to set aside what I had just learned from Henry Homeyer, I spent almost all day on the long-weekend Monday outside in the garden. I focused largely on two major garden cleanup tasks: taking diseased and weedy plant matter to the burn pile not the compost pile AND weeding the empty bed before putting down slow-release organic fertilizer and mulch.

My compost pile, like most home composting operations, does not heat up sufficiently to kill weed seeds or kill many plant diseases (fungi and bacteria don't die easily). An interesting experiment to test the weed seed theory is to "plant" some compost and see what grows - we got some sheep/alpaca/chicken manure a few years ago and a surprising number of nettles started sprouting in our vegetable beds. So, I took a wheelbarrow full of vegetation up to the burn pile, which we will light up during a long dark winter night.

The second part should earn me extra brownie points from my future self. By weeding now, I'm helping myself get ahead of the weeds in the spring; they will have less of a head start. By amending the soil, I'm enriching the garden and allowing plenty of time for nutrients to become incorporated into the soil ecosystem. I hope at some point, I'll have enough aged chicken compost to be able to spread a layer over the gardens each fall, but I'm not quite at that point yet.

More fall clean-up lies ahead, as we haven't even had a hard frost yet... but it's nice to feel ever so slightly ahead of the cleaning cycle.


  1. It's not clear what became of you nettle patch but they were all the rage this year in the foodie mags. Recipes for nettle omelettes and nettle soup and nettle pesto, oh my! I collected some nettles myself and dried them because they make one of the most nourishing herbal teas! :)

  2. You're right, Kerry - I missed an opportunity to harvest nettles. After doing field work in waist-high nettles and getting stung multiple times per day one summer, I haven't quite learned to embrace them. I'll have to try out some nettles next spring - the foodie/localvore in me says that nettle pesto begs to be paired with fresh pasta made with my hens' eggs.