Great autumn clean up

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By Sarah O'Neil

With the end of daylight savings and the clocks behind us, it is getting dark what seems like a lot earlier than by an hour.  The desire to just leave the garden as it is and stay indoors and eat pumpkin soup is quite strong.  But there is still loads to be done in the garden and while it may get dark earlier there are still plenty of daylight hours and it isn’t actually cold yet.

Planting the cool winter crops is well under way and I’m nurturing seedlings in my greenhouse.  Although it doesn’t seem to have the same excitement of spring seedlings as by now it is just another batch.  Spring seedlings have the added advantage of anticipation which wills me to check on them more frequently.    Autumn seedlings seem to be much hardier as they are able to cope much better without my frequent interference.

The garden itself needs a lot of work.  In the past I would get to a certain point and walk away.  Leaving everything in place, with dead tomato plants with well past it tomatoes hanging there, as I lost the will to harvest them.   Weeds took over and it just became a jungle that required a mammoth effort in the spring to get ready.

I’m much better now.  I clear away the crops as they finish providing me with a harvest.  Some of them are even still green, as I reluctantly relinquish my philosophy of “it’s not over until it is brown and crispy.”  With my new found system of clearing out the garden I am learning new things.  A garden with dead and decaying plants harbours pests and disease.  Late season self-sown plants, that would never make it anyway are ideal hosts to pests whose numbers have exploded logarithmically in the warmth of summer.  I have been giving these beasts a final feed before they settle in for the winter. 

Well not anymore.  I always knew hygiene was essential in the dirty world of the garden, but alongside having clean  germ free pots in which to sow seeds, it is also every important to keep the garden itself clean and tidy.     And with the soil free from plants that no longer need to be there, and weeds removed, I can see the garden as a structure much more clearly.  The hiding places for snails becomes more apparent and I can fill in the gaps or make a note to myself to check there regularly and oust unwanted gastropods from their winter slumber.

I can make decisions on how I’ll enrich the soil over the long winter.  Something not possible when the garden is covered in weeds.  Cover crops are a great way to give back to the soil and provide a bit of greenery where not much else will grow.  Or I could just get hold of a load of well-rotted manure and generously cover the garden and let the worms do the job of digging it in.

So as the darkness steals more of our daylight, I shall still be out there, pottering about in the garden bringing about order and control, harvesting the remains of the season, nurturing a hardier range of crops and making the garden much easier to manage in the future.   Just because summer is over, the garden still needs a bit of love and I am just the gardener for the job.