Putting the garden to bed for another year

This past weekend was another one of those fabulously sunny weekends that you just know are going to become fewer and farther between as autumn slips into winter (eek!). About a month ago, I bought about 70 bulbs at Sheridan Nurseries in my usual, carried away fashion. Every spring I get so excited by all the luscious crocuses, daffodils and tulips that I set my mind to plant more bulbs in the fall, forgetting entirely how much effort it is, and how frustrating it is to see all that effort get dug up by industrious squirrels.

It’s already a bit late for planting bulbs but I figure I can get away with it. The best time of year to get them in the ground is when nights are hovering around 6 or 7 degrees C. Your planting-depth ground temperature should be around 13 to 15 degrees C (not that anyone takes the temperature of their soil).  So I’m a bit late, but I think they’ll be alright.

Last year I created new flower beds that follow the edge of the raised patio and in the fall planted tulips that I’d accidentally disturbed from the front garden (they probably needed to be thinned out anyway). They looked so good this spring, and there is just enough light back there before the trees leaf out to keep them going (the mainstays of the gardens are shade-tolerant perennials because of the enormous oak tree). But I had barely turned my back on the garden for the fall and the squirrels were in there digging up every last bulb. I ran out and got some chicken wire and laid down a strip on each side, securing the edges with old bricks and leftover lumber from various projects.

Putting the gardens to bed
Chicken wire fortress

This works exceedingly well and it’s far easier to do than make cages for individual bulbs. I’ve found that once the bulbs are established, the squirrels seem to leave them alone. They just seem to like the freshly planted ones. I cover the whole thing with leaf mulch as it accumulates and when I start to see the early bulbs poking up in the front (south-facing, sunny) garden I use that as my queue to pull off the wire and let those bulbs come to life.

This year I’m giving blood meal a try in the front garden as a squirrel deterrent. I’ve never used it before but apparently it does work, only that you need to reapply after a hard rain. It’s not exactly vegan-friendly, and it smells rather repulsive. I’m only using it where it’s much harder for me to put down the wire so we’ll see how it goes.

Putting the gardens to bed
Mulched veggie patch

The tomatoes are done, sadly, but they had a good run! I lost count how much I harvested but suffice it to say I have one last batch I don’t really know what I’m going to do with. More salsa?? I’m just about salsa’d out!

With parents who live on a farm and keep horses, I have access to all the composted horse manure (aka black gold) I could ever want, so usually every year I take a couple big Rubbermaid garbage bins with me and load up while I’m visiting. I cultivated that into my cleared soil and then used our leaf vacuum to suck up the fallen leaves, chew them up and put a thick layer on the garden. The benefits here are that the soil will warm up faster and the leaves disintegrate into valuable soil nutrients during the winter. This area is really close to our driveway so it becomes a dumping ground for shoveled snow, which seems to help the leaves compost down. By spring, I have well-fed soil ready nice and early for the cooler crops like lettuces, spinach, arugula, chard, etc.

There are still a few chilies in the garden, and some beets and chard which I’ll be finishing off in the next week or so. The temperature is supposed to really drop this week so I need to get cracking before they get hit too hard with frost.

Spud chasing sunbeams
Spud chasing sunbeams

And while Chris and I were outside working our buns off cleaning, tidying, hedge trimming, turning compost, etc., Spud was lazing about chasing sunbeams. He’d even taken over Zeus’s bed!