DARREL KOEHLER: Fall chores
October is a time to celebrate the serene beauty of autumn with its golden sunlight, brisk air, crackling leaves and flaming palette. Besides enjoying the fleeting days of autumn, we are busy with getting our produce safely stored, cleaning up fa...
October is a time to celebrate the serene beauty of autumn with its golden sunlight, brisk air, crackling leaves and flaming palette. Besides enjoying the fleeting days of autumn, we are busy with getting our produce safely stored, cleaning up fall debris and preparing for the winter that's just down the road. We also are bombarded with household tasks including washing and placing on storm windows and doors, winterizing and getting the furnace serviced for the grueling heating season ahead.
Despite these distractions, take time to enjoy the wonderment of this all too short month. We won't enjoy similar weather conditions until at least April, which is a long five months away. Once we celebrate Halloween at the end of the month, it will be an entirely different environment.
Normally, we have our first hard frost by mid-October, so it's important to harvest and store any remaining produce. Warm-season crops, such as peppers, tomatoes and eggplants, won't tolerate even a hint of frost, so, if there is a frost warning, you have to either cover or harvest remaining flowers and vegetables. Old sheets, coats and even cardboard boxes can be used to cover these tender plants from Jack Frost.
There are several ways to handle green tomatoes. You can pull up the entire vine and hang it on a nail in the garage. You then pick the tomatoes off as they ripen. You can pick all the tomatoes and place in a single layer in boxes in the cool basement. Those showing yellow or white will eventually become ripe; the deep green tomatoes are best fried, pickled or prepared as green tomato pie.
Eggplant and peppers need no special treatment other than washing and using. Onions need to be dug and cured before being stored in mesh bags for winter use. Potatoes are dug once the vines dry and they have set tight skins. Spuds should be harvested by mid-month as they will freeze in the ground. Pumpkins and squash can be harvested after a light frost. They should be cured until their skins set and then stored single layer in the basement. Carrots can be stored in dry sand for winter use. Or, if you have an old fridge in the basement, you can stuff it with carrots, parsnips, rutabagas and turnips for winter meals. Place in plastic bags and place a paper towel in each. Make several small holes in the bag to allow moisture to escape. Change paper towels as they become soggy.
Turnips, rutabagas and parsnips can also be waxed to prevent shriveling during storage. Clean and trim veggies. Heat a pail of water that is deep enough to cover the veggies completely. Place a layer of paraffin, such as used in storing jelly, on top of the water. Dip each root in the pail for three seconds and remove.
Parsley and chive plants can be brought indoors and placed in a sunny spot for winter. They will supply leaves for flavoring and garnishing.
Harvested vegetables are not dead; they are living organisms that continue to grow during storage. Proper control of temperature and moisture will retard growth and prolong the storage life of the vegetable.
Late apples, such as Haralson, work best for winter storage. Early and mid-season apples should be either frozen or canned. Let apples mature on the tree, as they form a waxy protective cover that will keep them from shriveling. They store best between 32 and 40 degrees F. Apple boxes found in the store work well as you can store them in single layers, preventing rot from spreading. Haralson will shrink some, but should be edible well into April or even early May.
Many gardeners like to save their geraniums over winter. There are several ways to do so. The first method is to take cuttings or "slips" that are 4-inches long. Then root them in coarse sand, perlite or well-drained potting soil. Dip ends in rooting powder. You can also pot plants and bring them indoors for winter. If you have a sunny, warm window in a heated garage or porch, you have prefect conditions to overwinter them. You can also set up a nursery in the basement with grow lights.
If you have a cool basement, you can use an older method. Dig the plants, shake excess soil off and hang them from basement rafters. During winter, take plants down and soak several hours in water before hanging them again. Pot up early and place in sunny window. A variation is to place prepared geraniums in brown paper bags. Check throughout winter for a spark of life. You may need to sprinkle them with warm water from time to time.
• Once soil temperatures drop below 60 degrees F. you can plant spring-flowering bulbs. This includes tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, alliums, anemone, crocus and other minor bulbs. Add bone meal or bulb fertilizer in each hole when planting.
• Dahlia tubers, gladiolus corms and canna rhizomes should be dug before the ground freezes and stored in a cool, dark place. Cure in a cool, dark place, such as a garage, to reduce moisture before storage. Dahlia and canna bulbs are best stored in a breathable container with moist peat moss. The Prairie Gardener has successfully used plastic garbage bags, which must be kept slightly open. Check weekly for white mold early in the storage season. If it appears, air them out immediately. Glad corms aren't so fussy and can be stored in paper bag or cardboard box.
• Collect and save seeds for next year from your favorite direct-sow vegetables and flowers. The Prairie Gardener saves dill seed as well as morning glory and golden cosmos seed. During the winter, he saves winter squash seed. Other seeds can also be saved including marigolds and zinnias. Don't save seed from hybrid plants as they may not come "true."
• Prepare evergreens for winter by supplying them with ample water, especially if autumn continues to be on the dry side. Newly planted and established evergreens require supplemental water to help them survive winter, particularly in drought years. A nice slow trickle from the garden hose for an hour or so per evergreen once a week till the grounds freezes or you shut your water off should do the trick. This would include yew, juniper, spruce, pine and arborvitae.
• You can compost most of the vegetation from your garden with the exception of tomatoes and fall apples. If you have had tomato blight, remove all traces of the plant and fruit, so the blight won't overwinter and attack again next year. Fallen apples can harbor insect pests overwinter, so remove as well. It's generally a good idea to do the same with seed-laden weeds rather than to compost them.
• The Grand Forks Horticulture Society resumed its fall meeting schedule and will be meeting through spring on the third Saturday of the month. The next session will be Oct. 17 at the Campbell Library in East Grand Forks. The business meeting is at 9:30 a.m. followed by the general meeting at 10 a.m. Both are free and open to the public.
Koehler is the Herald's garden columnist. His column is published every Sunday in this section during the growing season. Send garden questions to him in care of the Grand Forks Herald, Box 6008, Grand Forks ND 58206-6008. Tune in the weekly gardening show airing at 4:10 p.m. Thursdays on KNOX Radio 1310 (A.M.) The final radio show of the season will be aired Oct. 8 with the show resuming in the spring of 2010.