Welcome to Grow Your Own Food, an informative series on gardening and growing your own food in Canada. Each month Redawna Kalynchuk draws on her extensive gardening experience to guide you through a year of growing your own food: planning, planting, maintaining, harvesting and putting your garden to bed for winter. This month, Redawna talks about the tasks associated with the harvest, and tells you how to prepare for frost.
Heading into fall there are different tasks our yards and gardens require. Many things are close to being ready for harvest, some are reaching their peak and others are done for the season.
Peas, cucumbers, lettuce and beans are done or are nearing the end of their season. Once harvested, pull all the remaining plant material and add it to your compost pile. If you don’t compost, it’s something you should consider. You can read more about it in the Fertilizer and Composting part of this series.
If composting doesn’t fit into your garden plans you can check for a composting facility in your area. Many towns and cities have locations where you can drop off garden refuse to be added to their composting efforts or they will offer curbside pickup of yard waste along with your regular garbage and recycling.
Saving Flower Seeds
Some flowers are at the end of their season and can be removed from the garden if you aren’t collecting seeds. If you're collecting flower seeds, it’s important to let the seed heads dry out on the stems. Keep a close eye on them; once the heads start to split open to release the seeds they’re ready for harvest.
I use a container to collect the dried seed heads, which I carefully cut off with a sharp pair of scissors. Breaking the heads off can result in losing valuable seeds. Once collected I place the seeds into individual plastic containers without lids and place them in a warm dry location for a few days to make sure they’re completely dry before final storage. When I’m sure they’re dry I place the seeds in envelopes, writing any important information on the front, including the year harvested.
Seeds generally will last, if stored properly, for about three years. I package all my envelopes in an airtight container for long-term storage. The goal is to keep them cool and dry as moisture, humidity and warmth will shorten the seeds’ shelf life. The fridge is a great place for long-term storage of all harvested garden seeds.
Preparing for the Risk of Frost
Depending on when you planted, root vegetables, pumpkins and melons are getting close to the final harvest. Keep in mind that as we get closer to fall the risk of frost grows. You can find links to your growing zone in the Know Your Zone and the length of your growing season and frost dates in the Starting your Seeds Indoors parts of this series.
Some locations across Canada can have frost as early as late August. Having large bed sheets or row covers on hand makes it easy to cover things up on nights where frost may be in your forecast. For a light frost sheets are sufficient. For a hard frost I recommend harvesting as much as possible.
Green tomatoes will ripen indoors but there’s no saving a fruit or vegetable that’s been hit with a hard frost. This doesn’t apply to root vegetables, though you should think about the final harvest of those vegetables once frost starts to become a regular nightly occurrence. We’ll discuss long-term storage of root vegetables in the next article of this series.
A light frost is when the temperature drops to 0 to -2 degrees Celsius. A hard frost is when the temperature drops to below -3 degrees Celsius for four or more hours.
Storing the Harvest
Things like peas, beans, broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts can be lightly blanched and then frozen. Canning is also an option though freezing is less work. I will do canning for things like beans, cucumbers and cauliflower and turn them into pickles.
Peppers and tomatoes go into salsa or can be canned as well. I’ve been known to freeze whole tomatoes for soup and slice peppers into rings before freezing. Then when I need peppers for say a quiche, I pull them out and chop them up while frozen.
Garlic and bulb onions need to be pulled and dried before going into storage. Remove as much dirt as possible.
Tomatoes and peppers can be picked green and will ripen indoors. Place the tomatoes in a shallow cardboard box and cover with newspaper; check daily for ripe tomatoes. Peppers will ripen on the kitchen counter.
Update Your Master Plan
Now is also a good time to sit down and update your master plan with what did and didn't work this season. It’s also a good time to make notes on any new additions to your garden space.
It was a very wet, hot season in my part of Alberta and this had some noticeable effects, specifically on my container garden. Anything planted in the ground has done spectacularly this season. When plants aren’t stressed out by dry spells they grow very well. In my container garden the tomatoes and peppers are thriving and I’ll be harvesting bumper crops of both. All my potted flowers also did very well and are still lush.
My container zucchini and butternut squash started off spectacular and the beginning harvest was very nice. As the season progressed the plants began to decline from too much moisture. They flowered very nicely and were setting very nice fruit, but it would seem like overnight the cute little baby squash and zucchini would go from beautiful green to yellow and rot right on the vine. For the future I know that when the season is wetter than normal, any potted squash needs to be more protected from the rains. Hand watering is definitely preferred.
Continue to Mulch
As you pull the plant material from the garden you can continue to mulch the rows with grass. You can read all about the benefits of mulching in last month’s article in this series. And as we head into fall you can also start putting the leaves that are falling from the trees into the garden to be tilled in in the spring. Every batch of grass and leaves you put into the garden is building up your soil.
Even just one season of mulching makes a noticeable difference in the condition of your soil. Your soil will appear darker, moister and have more bug activity, especially worms —all signs of healthy, nutrient-rich soil.
- Grow Your Own Food: Mulching, Weeding and Saving Seeds
- Grow Your Own Food: Choosing Seeds
- Grow Your Own Food: Planting Your Garden
Grow Your Own Food is written by Redawna Kalynchuk. Redawna is the writer, photographer and content creator at Nutmeg Disrupted. She has over 20 years of gardening experience and has gardened from indoors under high-powered lights to frosty zone 2b gardens in northern Alberta. She enjoys pushing the boundaries of traditional gardening and loves empowering others to grow their own food. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.