As summer comes to a close this Labor Day weekend, most of your summer crops are still going/growing strong. The Extension gardens in Jo Daviess, Stephenson, and Winnebago Counties are still producing tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and cucumbers with some fall plantings of cool season crops soon to happen. While our gardens are still active, you may have reached an end to your summer garden (or given up! I've been there...) and there are some remaining tasks that you need to do to close down your summer vegetable garden.
- Any hand tools that have come into contact with your plants and soil before storing for next season. it's especially important to remove any dirt that gets into corners of your tools. These are places where fungi/bacteria can overwinter and cause diseases next year. A bleach/rubbing alcohol solution can work for this. I like this guide from Wisconsin Extension.
- Tomato cages should also be clean. Especially if you have had a season of tomato diseases.
- Equipment that goes into the garden
- A soil test. If you had issues with your garden and it was not pest related, you may have some soil issues going on. This could be an incorrect soil pH, low nutrient availability, small soil organic matter, etc. Many of these soil problems can be addressed through taking a soil test. Fall is the best time as this allows you to raise/lower pH over winter and into spring. If you are planning to plant perennial crops next spring/summer, it's especially important to have this done as it is hard to change soil pH and other soil properties once planted. You can find soil testing kits at our local offices in Jo Daviess/Stephenson/Winnebago Offices.
- Garden Debris. If dead and decaying plant material that is diseased is left in the garden, you may have fungi/bacteria that overwinter in the soil and cause more problems next year. While some gardeners do let crops die off into ground without problem, it's important to be vigilant in what you leave behind in making sure it does not cause more problems next year.
- Notes. Make drawings of what the garden looked like, what problems you had, what varieties grew well/not well, any information that will beneficial next year. I have to do this or else I forget next spring/summer how things really were.
- Cool Season. Spinach, carrots, beets, lettuces, broccoli, cabbage, and many other cool season plants should be started from seed or transplant ASAP.
- Garlic. Plant garlic this next month or regret it come June. I went into garlic planting last month.
- Cover crops. You've got a short window to plant cover crops for fall. Mostly your options are wheat and rye. Yet again, I've talked about cover crops here from 2014.
- Compost. This could be a good time to start your compost pile. University of Illinois Extension has a website for getting started.
- Seeds. If you have heirloom seeds you want to save, now is the time to start seed saving. Sandra Mason, the University of Illinois Extension State Master Gardener Coordinator, goes into seed saving in her blog.
- Crops. Pumpkins, winter squash, sweet potatoes, onions, and many others can be stored in the right conditions for the next couple of months. Each will have their own needs though so look for guides that can walk you through this.
These are just a couple of things you can do as you wrap up the garden this summer. There's certainly more things you can be doing (and should be doing!)