I’m enjoying this mix of hot and cold that the weather has been treating us to. It makes working outdoors a guessing game. I’ve been spending most of my time cleaning up and trying to catch up to all the things I should have done months ago. (Same old, same old.) But there are a few things I’m going to let be. One of them is the batch of root vegetables still growing in my garden. That’s what I talk about today. There’s no reason to dig them up, just because winter’s coming. For the whys and wherefores, listen in or read on.
We’re finally starting to see some fall like weather. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it certainly is.
Most fall garden chores revolve around cutting back and cleaning up. I was forced to take it easy this summer and I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked. One thing I learned from this is that there are weeds that rabbits and groundhogs love to munch on – pretty much anything succulent. Not weeding a couple of shrub beds kept them happily distracted and I did not have a single invader in my vegetable garden, no one ate my salvia down to nubs and only 1 petunia met an early fate. Needless to say, I plan on being lazy about weeding next year, too.
On a more constructive note, there are a few other things I plan to leave alone this fall. I still have some root crops in the vegetable garden and that is where I am going to store them for the winter. Carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, celeriac – which is the new kale, can all be left in the ground, with a bit of protection.
I think of root crops as a leap of faith, because you never know how they’re doing until you dig them up – and then it’s too late. But I’ve had pretty good luck with them here. I find that they like really fluffy soil that’s not too rich. Root vegetables don’t want to have to do a lot of work and if the soil is loose, they can reach down without effort. Raised beds are great for this.
Any root vegetables that are left at this time of year get to stay put. When a hard frost is forecast, I move some soil over the tops that are poking out of the ground, but I leave the leaves exposed to keep making sugars. They get sweetest if they’re allowed to keep growing. You can even toss a row cover or sheet over them, to protect them from frost damage. Just remember to uncover them when it warms up. The sugars they store don’t just make them sweeter, they also give them some resilience in cold weather so leave them growing as long as you can.
Before the ground freeze, but when you know the season is over — we’ve had a few light frosts, the days and nights are cold, and pretty much everything has died back — mulch the root vegetables with at least 12 inches of straw, leaves, or whatever you have. A tip I just learned is to put your leaves in a garbage bag and mulch with that. It keeps the wind from blowing them away and it’s so much easier to move in the spring. If you need to, you can keep the bag in place with a brick or rock.
The final thing I do is put a bright, tall marker in the spot, so I can find it under a little snow. And it’s really helpful to put all your fall root crops in the same general area, so you don’t have to go hunting in winter.
The biggest problems with over-wintering root crops are rodents and wet soil. Try to rid the area of mice and voles, before cold weather. A few will find their way back, but at least cut back on the problem.
Wet soil is harder to fix, but keeping the ground frozen with winter mulching will help.
Of course, none of this is fail safe. If you are counting on these crops to feed you this winter, you should bring some in to store and experiment with leaving a few out, until you know how they’ll do in your garden. But I get a kick out of harvesting in January.
One last tip, if you plan on leaving any leafy greens, like kale, in the garden past frost, it’s best to let them thaw naturally in the sunlight, before harvesting. If you bring them in frozen, they will turn to mush.
So bring on the chilly temps. I’m ready. As the saying goes, If winter comes, can spring be far behind?