Wrapping up year's yard and garden work
It’s 18 degrees, our first real hard freeze, this early Sunday morning as I sit down to write. It’s a bittersweet time of year as I wrap up most of the year’s yard and garden work. There were days last summer when I didn’t look forward to mowing, and days when I didn’t want to hoe or pull weeds in the garden. We were tired of picking and canning beans and tomatoes before they were done producing, too. My wife, Sue, and I spent several hours in the past week processing some of our abundant kale and a row of parsnips for freezing. We gave bags of kale away, too, but there may still be some left to harvest despite last night’s freeze. It’s a hardy plant! The winter squash crop was placed in a cool storage room in the basement where it keeps until spring if it lasts that long.
Other outdoor tasks included a little tree and shrub pruning now that the leaves are gone. It was easier to see where branches cross and rub; where weak, narrow forks have formed, and where a little of the past year’s wind damage still needed to be cleaning up. Pruning cuts made now don’t attract insects or fungus problems because they remain dry. Woody plants have all winter to “compartmentalize” at the cut site. That “walling off” process leaves pruning wounds more difficult for insects and disease organisms to penetrate next spring and the plants won’t bleed as much when sap flow starts again.
The last leaves (except those still clinging to the red oaks) have been shredded up and tilled into the garden plots where they make good soil amendments and feed the earth worms. A light application of fall fertilizer with lower nitrogen and moderate levels of phosphorus and potassium should help the grass get through the winter and next spring with a stronger, deeper root system. The last mowing was completed and the mower “put to bed” for the winter. That process included a thorough cleanup, sharpening the blade and an oil change. Some folks drain the fuel system and run the mower till it stalls out of gas before storing it. I have had good luck completely filling the fuel system with gasoline treated with a fuel stabilizing compound. It usually starts on the first or second pull in the spring. The last thing I do is to remove the spark plug and add a small amount of oil directly into the cylinder. A couple of pulls on the starter cord distributes the oil. The plug is then re-installed and that’s it until spring.
I’d like to add some well-composted manure to the garden plots, but haven’t had time to deal with that yet. Manure adds important organic matter to the soil like the shredded leaves I’ve already tilled in, but contains more nutrients. The summer’s compost pile still needs to be spread out, too, before the garden is ready for winter. Those who may have planted new trees or shrubs (particularly conifers) during the past year would do them a big favor by watering them every week it doesn’t rain right up until the ground freezes. They’ll survive the winter in much better condition if they enter it well hydrated.
I plugged in the birdbath heater yesterday when I saw a crust of ice on it. Puddles left from the last rain have disappeared with recent dry weather and made the bird bath a focal point for birds that visit our yard again. There are a few things left to do outdoors, but we’re nearly in winter mode. I know I’m going to miss some of those growing season outdoor activities now that they’re done for this year, but the remainder of fall and the coming winter will have their own outdoor activities to enjoy. I look forward to those.
Steve Lekwa is a former director of Story County Conservation.