Last week, our beginner CTG students said goodbye to their gardens and our advanced class ends formal class time this week. This is perfect timing because you’ve probably put away the shorts by now and unpacked a few pairs of gloves and your trusty hat. Just a few nights ago, even the tippy top of Mt. Mansfield experienced its first snow of the season!
Mid-October is full of transition in the gardens. If you’re like us, you’ve been waiting until the very last minute to put your garden to bed. So how do we know it’s time to call it quits? We follow our estimated first and last frost dates. In Burlington, our average first frost date (50% chance of frost) happened to be yesterday, October 16th! Sure, we might scathe by for a few more days without a serious chill, but we try to bring our harvest into our cozy homes before frost damages the last of the peppers we were hoping would ripen and anything else that may not be frost tolerant.
Our preparation for winter didn’t just start last week. We’ve been anticipating the end of the growing season since early August when we started timing our successions around waning sunlight and lower temperature. We also began to close up the beds we won’t replant and seeded a cover crop to give our soil back the nutrients we took. In the Community Teaching Gardens, we prefer buckwheat for cover cropping because it grows quickly and dies back with the frost. When new students arrive next spring, we won’t have to hand-till in our overcrop and beds are relatively ready-to-plant. If our thick overcrop of buckwheat goes to flower, we pull it up, shake off the roots in the bed, and drop the buckwheat over the bed so it can break down and return important nutrients back to the soil.
For beds that are not cover cropped, we clear the bed of this year’s plants, weed, re-measure, and cover the bed with a thick layer of straw to keep soil from eroding. We weed the pathways and add a thick layer of wood chips around the bed borders.
Last but not least, we say goodbye to the garden with a ceremonial planting of garlic. This year, we even had the opportunity to use our own compost on the beds! Because Vermont is relatively cold and we love harvesting mid-summer garlic scares, we choose hard-neck varieties. We plant our garlic 3 inches deep 6 inches apart in rows 12 inches apart. After covering our garlic bed with a thick layer of straw, we say goodbye to the garden and dream of next months seed catalog arrivals and the last average frost of 2019.