The air is crisp and the leaves are hanging tenuously on the branches. Even the weeds are starting to fade as the chill of fall sends its first tentative tendrils through the air to caress away the faded heat of summer.
In some places – my condolences if I describe your home state – the weather is already freezing. Here in North Florida there’s been a positive change from baking heat to cool evenings and pleasant days (though the mosquitoes are still out in force).
Though it may be too late for you to plant fall vegetables, there are plenty of tasks that await the diligent gardener.
Here are some great gardening tasks for fall… perhaps they’ll spark some ideas as you strive to make next year the best gardening year yet.
Create New Garden Beds
When it’s cool, it’s time to put your hand to the plow. Or the broadfork. Or the spade and fork.
I spent a nice afternoon last week tearing out the remains of snake beans from our summer garden and replanting a bed with mustard for winter salads. Though your climate may not allow planting, by all means prepare new beds for spring! Cover with a good green manure crop, like barley, wheat, rye, fava beans or peas… or just mulch to keep in the fluffy soil and keep out the weeds. If you’re doing raised bed gardening, why not take a nice crisp day and build some new ones? Or try your hand at a hugelkultur bed for a change?
If you do it now, it’s one less task to complete in spring.
Plant Trees and Shrubs
Trees and shrubs like being planted in fall. They’ll go mostly dormant during the winter, though their roots will continue to grow into the soil. In spring they’ll leaf out and be very happy to have spent a sleep winter in their new location.
If you can’t find awake trees at local nurseries, seek out bare root trees from good mail order nurseries. I like Peaceful Valley and Burnt Ridge Nursery the best. I’m not a fan of Willis Orchards, Gurney’s or TyTy (though TyTy does have a hilariously stupid website with lots of chicks in bathing suits and young men getting weird with fruit).
Start Compost Piles
Got tons of leaves and garden debris? Make compost!!!
It doesn’t matter if the compost freezes over the winter – it’ll still break down, albeit slowly. One winter I noticed that worms were still active beneath a pile of rotten straw I was composting in Tennessee. Nature breaks things down. Stack it up now and you’ll have good humus for your garden later on.
Order Seed Catalogs and Gardening Books
There’s a winter ahead… prepare for entertaining yourself now! I like to spend some of the colder months thinking about what I’ll be planting next year. Order catalogs now and you’ll be receiving them off and on all winter. There’s nothing like pretty pictures of happy plants growing in warm gardens to cheer you up.
As for books, I’m always a fan of reading helpful material that will expand your knowledge of growing food. We need to know how to garden: learn from experts and you’ll get there quicker.
(Heck, if you want a really good book on survival gardening, check out my audiobook Survival Gardening Secrets. It’ll take you from a bare lawn to a lush garden and from composting hell to composting paradise.)
Improve Livestock Enclosures and Housing
Animals are tough on tractors, cages, coops and fences. As your year winds down, why not spend the cool days putting together better systems and stables for your ducks, pigs, goats, chickens, rabbits, and cows?
(Personally, I’m building an epic tree fort. It doesn’t relate to livestock but it’s still cool.)
Once it gets cold it’s a lot harder to get carpentry and fencing done – and there’s never enough time in spring.
I don’t think I can ever have enough greenhouse space. I bought this excellent and simple model a few years ago and it’s still going strong; however, I really need to add more space. Ideally, I’d have a greenhouse silo in which I can grow coconuts. Sadly, my budget is limited, so go buy my book. If we sell 100,000+ copies I can grow coconuts. Do it. You know you want to. Think of the children!
Okay, enough silliness. Once you have your greenhouse set up, check out this low-tech way to keep it warmer during the winter.
Create Housing for Desired Species
As I wrote in this post, birds, snakes, lizards, frogs, toads, bees, wasps – all are good gardening companions in your annual gardens and especially in your food forest.
Think about adding bird feeders and houses, stick and rock piles for snakes and toads, plus housing for bees and wasps.
Fall is a good time for small carpentry!
If you’re planning on trying the deep mulch method… or clearing a patch of weeds via crushing… or getting the grass away from the bases of your trees, fall is a good time to start.
Grab some cardboard and lay it down, then start stacking up those fall leaves. There’s an abundance of biomass available at this time of year. Put some of it to work and it will rot down under the winter and spring rains, leaving you with nice, weed-free planting areas when the warmth returns.
Dry and Preserve
I grow moringa trees all summer, then cut them down and dry the leaves in the fall so we can continue to enjoy their health benefits even after freezing weather takes them to the ground.
This is also a good time to dry wild greens for your rabbits.
Or harvest a bunch of herbs and save the flavor of summer for dishes you’ll be cooking in the winter.
Assess the Year
A final good use for the fall: assessing how you did.
Ask questions like:
Were my beds productive enough?
Was my irrigation good enough?
Am I happy with my soil?
What could make next year go better?
What got away from me?
Are there any tools that would make next year’s gardening better?
We should be assessing our gardening all year… but there’s something about the fine fall weather and cool breeze that brings us into a contemplative spirit.