Garden cleanup begins

By Tom Seymour | Sep 15, 2016
Photo by: Tom Seymour Pick corn now and process it before it becomes tough.

Determinate vegetable plants, tomatoes, for instance, produce their fruits all at once. After that the plants do nothing beneficial, but they do rob useful nutrients from the soil if left to grow on.

So for a better garden next year, remove spent plants now. But that’s easier said than done. After all, a few fruits (or whatever else) still cling to the vine. No matter. It’s better to get rid of the used-up plants now rather than later. I know this is easier said than done. I’ve been guilty of leaving plants in the ground until the bitter end, reluctant to see the gardening season end. So this advice comes from one who has been there and done that.

But no matter how hard it is to haul up plants that may have a few lingering bursts of energy left, it is better to do it once the plant has finished producing. Another good reason not to let old plants, vines and so on remain in the ground is that the older and more debilitated they become, the more likely they are to harbor harmful bacteria and various diseases.

Not to contradict myself, but I left my green and wax beans in the ground this year even though they have long since quit making nice, tender beans on a regular basis. My reasoning is that I’ll harvest the dried pods and use the seed inside as shell beans. Shell beans are any dried bean that you boil and serve (as opposed to baking with salt pork, mustard, molasses and brown sugar.) Shell beans were a seasonal favorite in years back.

While on the subject of shell beans, the old-fashioned Scarlet Wonder pole bean makes wonderful shell beans. What some may not realize is that they also make a fine Italian-style, snap bean when cut up on a diagonal. And in addition to that, I like to run a few pounds through my bean-Frencher. This old, cast-iron device slices the beans lengthwise and makes wonderful French-style beans, just the thing for those casseroles using Frenched beans and mushroom soup with canned, dried onions on top. Garden catalogs usually offer modern bean Frenching devices. New models are probably not cast-iron, but they no doubt work as well or better than my venerable machine.

Getting back to this year’s crop of bush beans, this is an experiment for me. And if the shell beans don’t prove worth the extra effort, I’ll haul the bushes next year as soon as they are done producing. But unless you are saving bean pods for shell beans, please do remove spent plants as soon as possible in order to have a nice healthy, rich soil for next year’s plants.

Finally, make sure to dispose of old vegetable plants properly. If, for instance, your tomatoes suffered from blossom end rot, that disfiguring, black growth that so plagues the gardener, don’t place such plants in the compost. It is far better to dispose of used-up vegetable plants in some out-of-the-way place, so as to prevent the spread of any disease.

Spring bulbs

The onset of fall seems a rather peculiar time to discuss spring-flowering bulbs. But many of our favorites must go in the ground soon in order to bloom for us next spring. Many garden catalogs have a fall edition, and these should arrive in our mailboxes soon.

I enjoy putting in new bulbs each year in order to expand spring color in my woodland garden. But figuring out where to put new bulbs can be frustrating. The idea is to use ground that does not already contain bulbs. There are several ways around this. Being essentially lazy, I choose the lazy person’s method. This doesn’t even require bending down, just the kind of work I like.

The lazy method requires nothing more than a digital pocket camera. In spring when flowering bulbs are in full bloom, go out and take lots of photos of your beautiful gardens. Then in fall, refer to the photos and you’ll get a pretty good idea of where to plant and where not to plant.

The second method is more exact and gives a more detailed idea of just exactly where to place those new bulbs this fall. In spring, during flowering season, drive Popsicle sticks, blank plant markers or even transparent plastic tableware in the ground everywhere you would like to see flowers next spring. This, of course, involves bending and kneeling and folks like me who suffer from back pain are usually reluctant to use this method.

Perhaps some day I’ll write a book on gardening for the lazy or for people with bad backs. But for now, how to choose where to place bulbs is a moot point unless you have used one of the two methods described above to determine just where to plant your bulbs. But that’s OK too, since even if you plant over existing bulbs, they’ll somehow manage to co-exist and by mixing-and-matching, you might get a fun and unusual floral display in late March or early April.

When choosing spring-flowering bulbs, remember that some species do not do well in Maine. Tulips and hyacinths, specifically, should be considered one-year plants. Oh, they will live on longer, but the blooms will become ragged and very sparse. On the other hand, crocus, snowbells, daffodils and jonquils, scilla and a host of others are winter-hardy and will spread over the years. If your goal is an ever-expanding perennial spring bulb garden, stay away from species that don’t live very long and stick to the long-lived types.

While on the subject of spring-flowering bulbs, now is the time to fertilize. Most any bulb fertilizer will do. I like Scotts Continuous Release Plant Food. Just sprinkle over your garden and rain and snowmelt will bring the nutrients down to the bulb. For those interested, numbers on this are 10-12-10.

For sure, your bulbs will do OK on their own without feeding. But for a healthier, fuller and longer-lasting spring bulb garden, it really pays to use some kind of bulb food.

When figuring out where to spread this special fertilizer, just consult those garden photos. I recall writing about the importance of taking pictures some time ago and those who heeded that advice will be well situated to spread bulb food just where it is needed.

Sweet corn

What a treat to get a pot of water boiling, run out to the garden and pick a few ears of sweet corn, bring them back and plunk them in the water. It just doesn’t get any fresher than that.

But except for the late-producing varieties, most corn types have quit growing by now. For some years I thought it best to leave the stalks to grow, thinking that those skinny little ears that hadn’t amounted to much would eventually become fat and juicy. But that was wishful thinking. The scrawny ears remained scrawny. Even worse, when we leave good, big ears on the plants, they become tough.

So here again, it pays to pick everything and either save it in the refrigerator crisper for fresh eating (it won’t get any better, but at least it won’t become tougher either) or put it up somehow. My solution this year was to save the smaller ears in the fridge and pressure-can the remainder. I was left with many meals of fresh corn from the fridge and 13 jars of canned corn. Now I can pull the stalks and discard them or give them away to people who like to use them as fall decorations. And the ground can be worked, fertilizer applied and when spring arrives, it won’t take much to get ready for planting.

Tom’s tips

Don’t have a composter or even a compost pile? Well, it’s perfectly fine to put kitchen scraps, vegetables and so on, directly in the ground. Just take a spade or fork and turn it in. Do this in areas where you have already pulled the crops. In fact, you can throw compostable materials directly on top of the ground once the ground freezes and it will eventually become part and parcel of the soil.

Regular green beans become shell beans when dried and removed from the husk. (Photo by: Tom Seymour)
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