Well, with the first licks of autumn touching us this week, it’s definitely time to put the garden to bed. We’ve pulled the carrots, and dug up the potatoes–they were small, this year, but we weren’t really paying much attention to them. Our tomatoes never really did much, but we’ve got jars and jars of beans canned up. Not the best year, but far from the worst.
Most years, we’d go through and pull up the remaining plants, leaving a few tomatoes for some end-of-year tart green treats. A quick run-through, weeding the late straggler dandelions and pulling out a few crabgrass runners. (Is there really any way to rid the garden of those, short of nuking from orbit?) Then a nice layer of mulch, perhaps following some compost and/or manure, if we’ve thought that far ahead.
This year, though, we’ve got a new weapon in our arsenal: we’re letting the chickens roam. We’ve pulled the electric fencing down (four wires, which did more to keep the dogs out of the garden than anything else), and replaced them with honest-to-goodness chicken wire. Then, after we’d gotten the last of what we wanted, we opened the door to the chicken run. (It’s always opened through the garden; the electric wire was one more bit of protection for the birds.) Now, they get the better part of the day to roam the beds and walkways, pecking, scratching, and nibbling to their hearts’ delight.
So far, they’ve trimmed back most of the greenery that we hadn’t gotten to; most of the raised beds look pretty well tilled. I imagine that they’re nicely fertilized, too–and letting them “rest” over the winter will mellow the nice, “hot” chicken droppings quite well. There are fewer bugs than I recall from last year, but that may be a function of the weather. All the same, it’s something of a win-win-win: the chickens get a greater variety of food and some entertainment; the garden gets helped along to where we want it to go, with less work from us; and we get our own entertainment this year, and potentially a better garden next year.
The other part of “closing down” the garden for the year is thinking forward to next year. There are seeds to get stored, and discussions to be had about what worked well and what didn’t. Decisions to be made about where to move things around, both for “crop-rotation” purposes and for ease-of-access. How to deal with the cantaloups, which want to climb, but whose fruit isn’t exactly designed to “dangle”. Whether to put the pole beans in one of the “deep” (side-to-side) beds, or a shallower one, the better to pick beans from outside their trellis. Exactly how many tomato plants do we want to try, this time around…
And all the while, feeling the nip in the air, and anticipating the next round of work to be done: stacking the woodpile, and lighting the first fire of the season to warm the house. I can’t say it’s my favorite time of year, but it’s certainly far from the worst.