By Victoria Rolfe
Those clean crisp October days are here. What better way to spend them than outside enjoying the fresh air and golden autumn sunshine? To the uninitiated, it may seem that garden season is over, but the true gardener knows that this passion of ours is a year-round endeavor.
Early fall is the perfect time to add more flowers to your garden beds. And you don’t even have to buy them. Just use what’s already there!
You may have some perennials in your garden that that are now ready to be divided into more plants that you can use for yourself or to share or trade with someone. Gently dig them up and pull them apart. (You may have to be less than gentle in pulling some plants apart; sometimes a knife is in order for this task.)
Each division can be replanted in order to grow a whole new (free) plant. Water them thoroughly after you plant them and keep them well-watered until the ground freezes. You may then want to tuck them in for the winter with a nice blanket of shredded leaves for warmth.
It is cheaper to buy spring bulbs (in bags) and plant them now, than to buy those already sprouted daffodils and hyacinths that are sold in abundance during the springtime.
You can plant those store-bought potted plants in the ground, but you will get more for your buck if you buy bulbs and plant them now. Follow the instructions on the packages for how deep and how far apart to plant each type of bulb.
Best of all, your vegetable planting days are not even over for this year. There is still one more crop that you can plant right now. Garlic! It’s the crop that keeps on giving.
Let’s say you start with one single bulb. You will (typically) split it into six cloves. Plant each clove now and it will yield a full bulb next year. While you eat some of your crop, save three bulbs (or 18 cloves) to plant for the following year’s bounty.
As you can see, in just a few years, you will be growing as much garlic as you can possibly use, and then some. All from one little bulb of garlic!
Garlic is very simple to grow. If you have ever planted flowering spring bulbs such as daffodils or tulips, you will be familiar with the process. I recommend using a hardneck variety, which is heartier for our cold winter growing conditions here in the Northeast. (Look for them in the garden centers near you.) Once you have split your garlic bulbs apart, simply dig holes three-to-four inches deep and six-to eight-inches apart. Place your cloves in the holes, pointy end up. You may enrich the holes with some fertilizer, compost and/or bone meal, a good source of phosphorus for root crops) Then water them in.
When the ground freezes, cover your bed with a three-inch layer of mulch. Shredded leaves are perfect for this and at this time of year you should have them in abundance. In the springtime, when the flowering bulbs are emerging from the ground, your garlic will start to put up similar little green shoots. You may remove the mulch once the ground has warmed up sufficiently.
When the shoots are about six inches tall, they will benefit from an additional dose of fertilizer. I like to use a liquid fish emulsion at this time. Mix it according to the directions and just water each shoot with the solution. In the next month or so, the shoots will put out curly flower stems called scapes. Cut these off, as you want your plant to put its energy into growing a bulb, as opposed to a flower. These scapes taste like garlic and you can chop them up and use them in cooking as such.
Sometime in July, the lower leaves of your plant will begin to die. That’s when you know it is time to harvest your garlic. Do not attempt just to yank the stems out, as they will break off. Instead, loosen the soil around each bulb with a garden fork. Push the fork into the ground four-to-six inches away from the stem, so as not to pierce the bulb, and gently lift.
Now you should be able to pull up the stem and clove easily. Do not wash them. Cure your garlic bulbs in a well-ventilated shady place. I lay them out on newspapers in my garage for several weeks. Once they are cured, you can “clean” them by taking off the outer layer of papery skin. They will last until next year’s harvest. Save your biggest bulbs to plant in your garden next fall. And now you are all set with garlic for life!
If you thought the gardening season was over now, I have given you plenty to do to keep you going for another month. So get out there in your yard and enjoy that lovely fall weather!
Victoria Rolfe has had a love of gardening all her life, from the time she was a tiny child coveting the daffodils growing in her neighbor’s yard (and wondering why she couldn’t have them in her own), to her teenage years when she took her pot experimentation in a different direction by growing the seeds she extracted from the bag into a beautiful marijuana plant on her bedroom windowsill. She went on in her adult years to feed her family by growing a huge and bountiful vegetable garden, as well as beautifying her three-acre property with an array of ornamental trees, bushes and flowers in the magnificent Hudson Valley region of New York.
Victoria learned a great deal in the process of all this plant experimentation. She then added to that knowledge by taking courses with the Cornell Cooperative Extension to become a Master Gardener Volunteer. In her volunteer capacity, she helps to educate the public on gardening through classes and information booths, most notably at the Dutchess County N.Y. Fair each August. Throughout the summer months, Victoria is most likely to be found among the weeds, either in her own garden or those of others who actually pay her to play in their dirt and do the thing she loves best, delight in the magical world of gardening.
Victoria is not only a gardening aficionado; she is also passionate about helping people live a better life on less money. Visit her website and blog at brightfuture2budget4.weebly.com, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.