Frost signals time to prepare for winter

We have had a frost, so it’s time to tear out tomato vines and basil, and refill those raised beds with compost.

The tomato cages, a retirement gift from my department, will be doing duty this winter as deer deterrents. There have been chicken wire cages around my newest fruit trees all summer, but the trees have grown and will need protection from nibbling. These are great cages, about four feet high, square, and collapsible.

The frost wilted the leaves of the dahlias, so the tubers are getting lifted. It is a bit of work to grow dahlias; they must be planted in the spring and lifted in the fall, but the flowers are lovely and make great cut flowers for in the house. Once the tops are wilted, I cut most of the stem off, leaving a few inches to serve as a handle and to mark their location next spring. The tubers are lifted from the soil and excess soil removed to reduce weight and unwanted company. They dry for a while as other plants get the same treatment.

I store tubers in crates (cardboard boxes or paper bags also work) which have been lined with newspaper to reduce mess. Tubers that have been drying get another soil removal treatment, then are put in the crates. I fill all the spaces between tubers with peat moss. Some years, I dust the tubers before adding the peat moss.

Peat moss is made from sphagnum moss, which has anti-microbial properties, and the tubers always emerge in the spring just fine. The crates are stored in a cool room. They used to be hauled to the basement, but I found a ground-level storage that’s better for me.

That’s it, no water, no attention until sometime in the spring, when they will start producing new stems. The tubers can be split to share with friends either now as you lift them or next spring before planting.

Last fall, I moved the strawberry bed but placed the plants too close together, so now half the new bed has been torn out and the remaining strawberries spaced further apart. Strawberries are rather tough plants, determined to live, so they get no winter covering here, though I plan to use straw around them to keep berries clean next year.

There are two asparagus beds here, one in my garden and one that’s been here more than 30 years. The stalks of both get cut, leaving a couple of inches, then the bed in the yard gets mowed. The yard asparagus accumulate weeds over the summer and I want their roots to get the full benefit of winter’s cold.

My garden has carrots, celery, parsnip and parsley growing. A friend said she had red beets and chard, so our gardens are still a source of fresh vegetables. Garlic planted a couple of weeks ago is starting to sprout.

This week, there were two deer at 1p.m. in the afternoon under the apple tree (the dogs were going nuts), and when I came home today about 1:30, there was a red fox. The only thing that I can think of is that as I pulled the tomato vines, cracked, or small tomatoes got pitched over the fence and were attracting wildlife.

Susan Carty is a local gardener and a professor emerita of biology at Heidelberg University.

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