End of Season Vegetable Gardening Tips

It’s the end of the growing season; time to harvest the vegetables and clean up the garden. These end of season vegetable gardening tips will help you complete the growing season for the year. Although gathering in the veggies and preparing the garden for next spring is not one of the favorite tasks of gardeners, you will reap the rewards of the extra effort, especially when you are enjoying those home-grown vegetables this winter.

Stop Fertilizing
At the end of the season, vegetable plants do not need to be fertilized. In September withhold fertilizer and remove blossoms that will not have time to mature. This will discourage new growth so that all of the plant’s energy will be put into making delicious vegetables.

Watch the Weather
Keep an eye on the weather forecast to find out when the first killing frost will occur in your area. All tender crops, like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, sweet corn and summer squash, should be harvested before the thermometer dops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ripening Tomatoes
Warm fall weather never seems to last long enough to ripen the last of those green tomatoes. Most gardeners will give up on them at this point, but it is possible to ripen the fruits indoors. Remove the entire plant from the garden and hang it upside down in a basement or garage, making sure that the indoor temperature won't drop below freezing. Alternatively, you can pick the tomatoes and place them upside down on a table or in a brown paper bag with an apple. Tomatoes ripened off the vine will not taste the same as vine-ripened tomatoes because no more sugars will develop. If you don’t want to wait for them to ripen, then fry them. Fried green tomatoes can be a tasty dish.

End of Season Vegetable Care

  • Potatoes: Dig the potatoes and place them in a cool, shady area, such as under a shade tree, to dry for a couple of days. Store in a cool, dark area with plenty of air circulation. They'll keep throughout the winter. Don't refrigerate them, as this breaks down the sugars in the potato.
  • Carrots: Pull carrots and allow them to dry for a day. Store in a cool, dry area. Listen to the weather forecast because carrots can be left in the ground until the first hard freeze. Like potatoes, carrots will keep for extended periods of time.
  • Squash: Summer squash can be harvested but should be used within a few days. They do not store well. Winter squash, such as acorn or butternut, can be stored through the winter in a cool, dark place like the basement or garage.
  • Onions: You may allow the onion tops to bend over near the season or you can help them along by bending them at ground level just before they set the seed pod. This will discourage growth and allow the onions to become more flavorful. When you are ready to harvest, pull up the onions and air dry for two or three days before storing them in a cool, dark area. Use red onions first, then white, then yellow.  Yellow will store for the longest time.
  • Beans and Peas: Pick beans and peas before the first killing frost. Pull up the plants and throw them on a burn pile. Both need to be prepared and frozen for winter storage.

Get the Garden Ready for Spring
The foliage from the harvested plants, such as corn stalks, tomato vines and pea and bean plants, can be piled in the garden and burned, if this is allowed in your area. This will kill any diseases or pests that can overwinter in the greens.

If burning isn't allowed, gather the greens and dispose of them with raked leaves or pile them in an area well away from your garden. Don't add these greens to your compost pile, as even active composting doesn't generate enough heat to kill off every disease and pest.

Getting Your Soil Ready for Spring
If you have clay-based soil that stays wet, fall is a good time to roto till the garden. The winter freezing and thawing will break down the soil, producing a finer soil for better seed germination in the spring. If you are happy with your garden soil, then nothing will need to be done to it.

This is the time of year to take soil samples to your local Extension Service. Dig about six inches deep into dry soil. Place each sample from the different areas of your garden in a separate bag or combine the soils for one test. The Extension Service will send you a report that will include a list of nutrients to add next spring before planting. The test will also determine the pH factor of the soil and recommend steps for making it more alkaline or acidic. 

End of season gardening isn't as fun or exciting as planting seeds and watching them grow, but it is an important step in maintaining a healthy and productive garden. Proper cleanup helps to control pests and plant diseases, and it reducesthe amount of preparation needed in the spring, giving you more time to plant. 

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