Inch by Inch: Keeping clean

Posted Wednesday, August 22, 2012 in Sustainable Maine

Inch by Inch: Keeping clean

It's hard to keep all the balls in the air this time of year, isn't it? Keeping the plants alive, watering, weeding, checking for pests; picking the fruit of your labor and everything that goes along with that; preserving, drying, freezing, root-cellaring; and, now, sadly, comes the time of year when it is also necessary to start tidying up the gardens.

Not all your beds will need to be cleaned up soon; many of them are still very active, if your gardens are like ours this year.  But some beds will soon be ready to be put to sleep for the winter, and for those beds, it may be time to plant your wintering over crop.

Wintering-over crops

Alfalfa is a great wintering over crop.  It's ground cover, and keeps other weeds from coming up, and it fixes nitrogen in your soil naturally.  And it's inexpensive -- a pound of alfalfa seed that is winter hardy can be as little as $10.  You may have to balance your soil somewhat to encourage sprouting.

Clovers, particularly white and red clover, and birds' foot trefoil, are also winter hardy.  Clovers are great for the early part of the spring when you want to encourage bees to come to your garden, too, and a small patch of clover, left for the bees, can keep them happy all summer long.

Both of these crops can be harvested and fed to any animals you have around the place, whether they're goats or miniature dairy cows or horses or chickens, but typically, you need more space than the typical urban gardener has.  For our purposes, leave them to grow and set seed. Next year's soil will thank you.

Composting

If you haven't thought about it yet, this may be the time of year to consider investing in another composter, or making one.  You'll have a lot of debris to clean up, and you'll need someplace to put it, and more to the point, you'll want all that lovely compost next spring!  But beware ... if you've had any kind of fungus, remove that and put it in a paper bag for tossing away or burning.  Your home composter won't get hot enough to kill fungal spores, and you definitely don't want those in next year's garden.

Moving or replanting bulbs

It's a trifle early to consider bulb planting, but it's not too early to think about digging up spring bulbs and even summer bulbs and dividing them.  Want to move that patch of day lilies? This is a good time to do it. The ground is still soft and you can see where all your plants are. 

Pruning

Soon enough, it will be time to prune.  You can prune your rugosa roses now (save your rose hips for tea or to help a neighbor start her bed) and very soon, it will be time to prune back your grapes.  Fruit trees can be pruned after the sap stops running, which will be in late fall. Prune your hollies and other evergreens for shape now, before they set berries.

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