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Judy Isacoff
Under the mulch, earth crawling with life. Look closely to see additional, barely visible worms.

NATURE’S TURN: Autumn at summer’s edge: plant for winter, prepare for spring

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By Monday, Oct 9, 2017 Farm and Table 1

October 9 – 22, 2017

A hallmark of the season–garden cleanup. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Mount Washington — The sun is rising, but it will be hours before our low-arcing star climbs above the trees to the east-southeast to light my garden. Here’s today’s line-up of turn-of-the-season tasks. First, pick all the remaining green beans off bamboo poles and trellises, then cut bean vines at ground level and pull up poles with the twining, three-leaflet leaves hanging on. Remove to staging area to be cleaned before stowing. Cut dried cornstalks–also supporting bean vines–level with the ground; break in half or thirds and pile into wheelbarrow. Gather up remaining delicata and Styrean pumpkin. Rake the bed to its full form. Uproot weeds. Spread two inches of compost over the cleared ground. Aerate with fork, rake again, broadcast annual winter rye grains thickly and cover seed with thin layer of earth. Shower generously.

Frost hardy crops: leek, parsnip and chive. Beds sprouting winter wheat. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Until recently I would have yanked the crop plants, roots and all, and mixed the compost into the ground by turning over the whole top layer fork-deep. I had been oblivious of the community of hungry macro- and micro-organisms that, when fed and not disturbed, are at work in the soil aerating the ground, making nutrients available to plants, and further cultivating their relationships with each other and the roots of plants. My new practices are informed by no-till principles. Cutting off the stems of crop plants and leaving their roots in the ground provides food for soil biota. Spreading compost on the surface and inserting the tines of a spading fork or broadfork to introduce air and light into the earth avoids disrupting soil communities.

One astonishing proof that no-till methods are increasing a population of at least one very visible beneficial soil macro-organism is the bountiful presence of night crawlers (Lumbricus terrestris). These earthworms tunnel deep into the ground, cultivating for us. They look like small snakes and are very vigorous. They do not live in disturbed ground. The incidental redworms or manure worms (Eisenia fetida) that appear in our gardens are quintessential compost worms.

Late-season flavor: bulb fennel. Its robust root was left in the ground. Photo: Judy Isacoff

As we remove the dying remains of summer food crops, cool weather vegetables become ever more attractive. Combine the last harvest of cucumbers and ripe red and golden tomatoes with fast-growing lettuces and piquant Asian greens. Toss with an ume dressing of parsley, basil, garlic and onion chives pureed with grapeseed oil and umebosi plum vinegar.

Shear swollen fennel bulbs from their considerable roots, which, when left behind to decompose in place, leave the soil intact. Pull the bulb’s pleated form apart into shells to stuff with a finely chopped salad, or dice and cook with onions to transform fennel into a smooth, white, mildly licorice-flavored soup–simply scrumptious.

Plant garlic* and clean-up, but not too much**.

For fall, there is an 80 percent chance of suffering the first hard 24°-freeze by Oct. 30, but very light surprise frosts of 36° might start hitting gardens by late September. Chart courtesy garden.org






**Lazy Gardener Pledge – https://content.yardmap.org/special-pages/pledge-to-be-a-lazy-gardener/?utm_source=Cornell+Lab+eNews&utm_campaign=0bd54b741b-


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  1. mich quig says:

    darn, I just pulled my green bean plants! thank you for this article and the reference sites!

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