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Put the Garden to Bed & Celebrate Harvest Season!

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The school year is just getting underway but the garden season is now coming to an end. If you keep a school garden, this is the time of year when all your hard work pays off. Hopefully, students have enjoyed a meal from the garden or a snack such as carrot sticks. Now it’s time to tuck your garden in for the long winter sleep. Mulching the garden over the winter reduces erosion and helps feed the soil. Imagine that layer of clean hay or straw as a winter blanket to protect your garden soil and worms over the long, cold winter.

Is there still food in your garden? Get it out of there! Frost is here, so it’s time to tuck away those veggies in storage. If you have enough food in your school garden project to make a meal, try hosting a Harvest Meal for students, families or maybe in collaboration with your local food bank. If you have more food than you can use, ask us about the Preserve the Harvest Support Package. Maybe there is a class at your school that could make use of some of those extra carrots or beans for a lesson on canning and pickling. Food preservation skills are being lost over time because of the convenience of grocery stores and imported food. Preserving local food cuts down on energy used to transport food from far away, and that shrinks our carbon footprint!

If you grow strawberries, now is the time to cover them with mulch for the winter. Straw makes great mulch (maybe that’s why they’re called “straw” berries), but you can also use evergreen boughs, clean hay, or seaweed. Wait until 2 or 3 touches of frost and then cover them with at least 10 cm of mulch.

If you grow raspberries, fall is the time to prune and thin your canes. Cut back the tallest branches that produced fruit this year. Cut them right down to the ground because these stems will not produce fruit again next year. Thin the canes by leaving one strong cane every 4-6 inches and removing all others. You could pot the canes you remove and sell them to make money for the garden. These transplants should regrow if they are planted before the ground freezes.

If you grow dry beans for soup, pick the whole plant once the leaves have died and the plants are starting to fall over. Pull the bean pods off the plant and lay them out in a warm dry place until the pods have completely dried and broken open. Old screen doors work well as a surface for drying. Shell the beans and store in an airtight container. Soup beans are a great crop for school gardens because other than weeding and watering during the summer they require very little attention until the fall. They also look beautiful and can be sold in small jars as a fundraiser for the garden. Nothing beats a pot of baked beans straight from the garden—a classic Nova Scotian dish!

If you grow garlic, fall is the time to plant next summer’s crop. Plant garlic between October and November. Garlic is fun to use for math problems: What is the average number of cloves per bulb? If you plant 3 heads of garlic, and each year you replant half of the bulbs you grew, how many years will it take to grow 100 heads of garlic? Once you’ve planted the garlic, cover it with a thick layer of mulch. Straw, clean hay, seaweed and grass clippings will do a great job protecting garlic underground through the long winter, and it keeps the weeds down next year, too!

Once all the vegetables are harvested, stored, processed, and the garlic is planted, it’s time to clean up the garden. It’s much easier to find stray shovels, watering cans, and tomato stakes before they are covered in a foot of snow or tossed around by the winter wind. Store all your tools in a garden shed or somewhere indoors. If you don’t have a garden shed, maybe you can find a high school class willing to make one for you as a school project. Once everything is tucked in, it’s time to let the garden sleep until spring. 


by Shandel Brown
Engagement Officer, Cape Breton

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