Garden Expert: In The Food Garden
Cooler temperatures still yield garden goodness.
I have been thinking about food a lot lately. Every time I go out into my 10-acre garden, I am reminded that the food I grew with such pride through the summer is melting away into pockets of rot. But I am here to tell you there is an encore happening in your garden, and the celebration is not quite finished. It won’t be, in fact, for another few weeks.
Leeks are running my life these days. I grew more than I expected on account of when I sowed four packets of their seeds, I had 110 per cent germination (an impossibility, I know, but this is how it feels to be successful in the garden). Every gardener has had this experience. Leeks enjoy the cold, especially temperatures below freezing. They get bigger and better by the day.
Carrots are much the same. “Bring on the cold weather,” they say to one another as they huddle shoulder to shoulder in the cold, sandy soil. I suggest that you dig them soon and put them in bushel baskets of dry sand to hold them over the next couple of months in your garage or cold cellar. They can carry on their discussion there while waiting for you to bring them to the table.
You will no doubt be picking up a pumpkin at your local food retailer or farmers’ market soon. I suggest that you keep it on your porch or in your garage until Halloween just to prevent it from being hit by frost and going gooey and rotten before the big day.
I remind you that pumpkins are 90 per cent water. Therefore, throwing them out or disposing of them at the end of your driveway makes no sense. Think about all the garbage trucks in early November that are driving around with large, orange vegetables: neat packages full of water. It makes more sense to place it on the surface of the soil in your garden and let Mother Nature rot it down into something useful. In time it will assist in building microbes and organic matter there.
The whole routine of planting and harvesting garlic is counterintuitive. You plant the cloves now in open, welldrained soil. Come July, they will sprout a long stem with a pigtail and flower on the end of it: this is called a scape. Three or four of these sell for big bucks at the farmers’ market in July, so cut and use them. Every part of the garlic plant is edible, so be creative and use the flowers in salads or whatever you are cooking on the barbecue that time of year. Harvest the garlic in August and leave the bulbs in the sun for a few days. Then tie the stems together and hang them in a cool, well-ventilated place until you are ready to use them in the kitchen.
If you had a great crop of raspberries this season, now is the time to cut them down by removing the canes that fruited this summer. Cut the woody stems to the ground. Leave the young growth that occurred in August to mature and produce fruit next season. If you have fall-bearing raspberries, then finish picking and cut down the fruiting canes next spring.
If you have a large rhubarb plant in the garden, now is an appropriate time to dig it up, divide it into smaller root portions and replant it or give away some of the divisions. This is also true for hostas, daylilies, monarda, and many other perennial flowering plants.
Strawberries that have been in the same soil for three years or more are ready to be dug up, separated, and moved to new ground. Make sure that their new home is completely weed-free at the time of planting or you will regret it. Weeding strawberries is not my favourite job.
Spring is when the new plants are available for sale and therefore planting. However, if you have an established clump, now is an appropriate time to make sure that it is weed-free. Let the leaves and stems stand over winter. They will help to accumulate snow as a natural insulator and they add some interest to the winter garden.
It may be late in the gardening season, but don’t forget that the garden still needs some of your attention.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden, published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com