Fall gardening activities | Getting ready for the next seasonOn December 7, 2019 by Vlad5 min read
An old Romanian proverb says “Fa-ti vara sanie si iarna car”, which roughly translates to “Build yourself a sledge during summer and a carriage during winter”. Although none intuitive at first glance, this saying passes down a lot of wisdom and urges good homesteaders to always think, plan and act in advance, always getting ready for the next season. As gardeners, our jobs are not done once the warm weather goes away, there’s always something to do!
Although our gardens die in the fall, our work is far from over. There are quite a few new gardening activities that will quickly add up on your fall gardening to-do list. Closing in on the end of summer and towards the beginning of fall, is harvest season. After harvesting you might start preserving any surplus produce, so you start canning, pickling, drying, freezing your fruits and vegetables, and before you know it, it’s the middle of fall. But even after every plant in your garden is dead, there’s still more to do.
Cleaning your garden beds for the winter
After the cold sets in and your plants die off, it’s time to clean the garden beds and get them ready for the next season. Start by pulling out all the plants with their roots. If you’re making your own compost, you can add the dead plants to your compost, but only if you’re sure that all the plants were healthy, otherwise you risk spreading the disease into your garden.
This year, our compost bins were already full, so we pilled the dead plants and burned them. This is also an alternative, but it does make a lot of smoke, which is not ideal.
An update on our soil improvement experiments
The homestead we bought is mostly on clay soil. A pretty bad setting for gardening at first sight, but we’ve tried a bunch of techniques to amend our clay soil. When cleaning out our garden this year we got to see some of the results of the experiments we started the first year.
Last fall, we’ve built two garden beds made solely out of hay and planted over-winter garlic in them. This experiment aimed to follow Ruth Stout’s gardening principles. We laid a 40cm thick layer of hay directly ontop the clay soil and another 20cm layer on top of that in the spring. This method seemed to work really good, the bottom-most layer of hay is almost completely broken down, and with the help of a few moles and mice that dug galleries underneath the beds, the clay soil started to mix with the freshly made hummus.
For the next two garden beds, we’ve put in all the effort. We dug the clay in the fall, covered it with hay, dug and mixed it again in the spring, and mulched throughout the year. As you can imagine these beds yielded the best results. The organic matter mixed in deeper into the soil, improving its tilth. There were also more worms in these beds compared to all other areas.
We also tried laying cardboard, compost and mulch to make three other garden beds. The cardboard acted as a barrier between the organic matter and the clay below it, so this method didn’t work at all for us. We’ll be skipping the carboard from now on, as we saw that mulching consistently is enough to suppress the weeds.
The other methods we tried didn’t have great results either, but one thing was consistent. Despite what permaculture and no-dig methods teach us about digging/ploughing the soil, in our case, it’s a necessary step.
Ploughing our garden
We cannot afford to bring in big enough quantities of compost, and we’re definitely not producing enough yet. So instead of building our garden beds above the existing soil, we want to improve the soil itself. We plan on stickying as close as possible to the permaculture principles, but we also want to observe what works best in our environment.
The main argument against digging up the soil is that you disturb the microfauna in the soil. But in our case, it’s almost none existent. I’ve checked multiple samples under the microscope and there’s barely any life in it. Since we have to build everything up almost from scratch, we can tilt the soil without any worries.
Since our soil is so compacted, tilling will help a lot. This is one of the final tasks on our fall gardening to-do list. It was hard work, but once the rains moistened up the dry clay soil, we put our cultivator to work and tilled the whole garden plot. We also expanded our garden almost tripling its size, without even taking into account the food forest we stared in our orchard.
Over the winter, the water inside the clay mounds that the plough left behind will freeze and expand, breaking apart the clay particles. The sod and leftover mulch will mix in with the clay, preventing it from packing up as tight next year. This will improve water retention – preventing more cracks, loosen up the soil – aiding healthier root systems, and feed the microorganisms and critters – creating a habitat for life to return to.
Pruning the orchard
The final task for this fall will be to take care of our orchard. It’s time to prune our trees and get rid of a few diseased trees. Last year we hard pruned half of our trees with great results, so now we mustered up the courage to do the same for the rest of them.
We added 6 new trees to the orchard, but I’ll tell you more about them in the spring, once I see if they survive. Some of them are planted next to the trees we plan to cut down, as soon as the rains stop.
Cutting a pig
Saturday we’re heading out to my grandmother’s house to cut a pig. I’m not the one doing the cutting, but every year they raise a pig for us and sacrifice it at the beginning of winter, as is the tradition in Romania. It’s also a great occasion to visit the relatives, so we’re looking forward to the trip.
I was also planning to take more photos of our current soil conditions after returning home, but the next day, the weather shifted and now everything is covered in snow. We’ll have to wait till spring for that.