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 is back with tips for harvesting your garden and putting your garden to bed for winter.
It’s now time to complete the harvest for this year and put the garden to bed for the winter.
Harvesting and Storage
All root vegetables should be pulled and readied for long-term storage. I like to use a shovel to dig out my carrots. Often when you try to pull them out by the tops you get a little bit of wiggle and then the greens break off, leaving the carrot firmly stuck in the ground.
After the carrots are pulled I like to give them a rinse with the garden hose to remove most of the dirt. Then they go into the kitchen for a good scrub. Once completely clean I air dry them before packing and sealing them into plastic food storage bags. I place them into cold storage, either a cold room or the fridge. They’ll keep for many months.
For harvesting potatoes, I like to use a pitchfork or shovel to get them out of the soil. Once harvested I set them on cardboard to dry out. I brush most of the soil off the surface of the potatoes but I don’t wash them. The extra moisture will cause them to go moldy. Once dried I bag them up in burlap sacks and place them somewhere dark and cool. You can often find burlap sacks for sale at some grocery, farm supply or hardware stores.
Potatoes will turn green if they’re exposed to too much light so it’s very important to keep them someplace dark and cool. It’s not advisable to eat green potatoes as they do contain amounts of solanine. Solanine is a natural toxin potatoes have as a defence against insects, but the levels increase with prolonged exposure to light and warm temperatures.
I treat beets similar to the potatoes but store them in the fridge. Only a few days of warmth will turn beets soft.
Pumpkins can be harvested green; they’ll turn orange in storage. I place them on a piece of cardboard in the shop/garage and open the door during the day to expose them to the sun. The warmth helps them ripen.
For tips on harvesting other garden vegetables you'll want to read September's checklist.
Using Fallen Leaves
If you’re blessed with trees that drop leaves, do collect them for your garden or compost. They’re a carbon-rich material and are necessary for a good compost. If you don’t compost, spread the leaves over the entire surface of the garden. And go heavy with the leaves — you really can't add too much. I used to put upwards of 25 truck loads of leaves into my garden every fall.
Readying Perennials for Winter
If you have a lot of perennials in your garden you may trim some down. I’ve mentioned before that I leave some of the taller perennial stalks to dry and remain in the beds over winter. Not only is this a great place for the birds that winter over in your area to perch on while visiting your winter garden, but it also helps hold snow, an important insulator for perennial bulbs, especially in the colder gardening zones.
The Final Lawn Treatment of the Season
If you haven’t already, do the final grass cutting of the year. For the final cut I like to raise the mower deck to leave the grass fairly tall, about 1 1/2 inches. It’s better to leave it a bit taller for winter.
If you fertilize your lawn, now’s the time to give it a low nitrogen, high phosphorus and potassium mix, which will encourage root growth. Want to learn more about fertilizer? I discussed commercial and natural fertilizer options and what the numbers mean in the Fertilizer and Composting article in this series.
Wrap sun-sensitive evergreen shrubs such as Dwarf Alberta Spruce with burlap for protection against winter sun scald (west coasters who never see the sun in winter may not need to do this!). Also, if you have tender shrubs close to a roadway that may be treated with salt during winter, it’s advisable to wrap them as well to protect them from roadway contaminants.
Containers and Tools
Clean and put away all containers used for planting. It makes for an easy early start in the spring if everything's cleaned and ready to go. All terra cotta containers should be stored in a warmer spot such as a garage or house. They’ll break in freezing cold temperatures.
All garden tools should be cleaned as well. Things like shovels and hoes can be sharpened using a grinder and treated with vegetable or canola oil before storage. There’s nothing better than using a freshly sharpened hoe in the spring!
With the temperatures cooling now's the time to focus on the plants we have inside our homes. As the daylight hours are reduced it’s time to cut back on fertilizing house plants and reduce the amount of water they receive.
If you have a Christmas Cactus, try to trigger it for more blooms. Place it someplace cool and if possible try to put it in the dark for 12 hours a night. This signals the plant to start flowering. Two weeks of giving it 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark will give you an abundance of flowers heading into the winter season.
- Grow Your Own Food: Mulching, Weeding and Saving Seeds
- Grow Your Own Food: Summer Gardening Chores
- 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.