All posts by Jordan Charbonneau

Garden Checklist: Late Sept. & Oct.

It’s officially autumn. We’re finishing up with the major summer harvests, but September and October are still important months in the garden. This fall, a few chores can help you have winter harvests, build healthy soil, and have a beautiful, productive garden next season. Here are a few of the tasks we think it’s important to consider this time of year. 

Buy and plant perennial onions, garlic, shallots, and bulbs.

Spring isn’t the only planting season. If you haven’t already, it’s time to select and order perennial onions, garlic, shallots, and certain fall-planted flower bulbs like daffodils and tulips. The sooner you order, the larger the selection you’ll have to choose from.

Exact planting dates may vary depending on your hardiness zone, but here in Virginia, it’s best to plant them between September 15th and November 15th.

Think about winter composting.

It takes a bit of work, but you can keep composting all winter. We recommend building a large pile and covering it to give your compost more protection from the elements. We have a whole article which you can find here for those interested in making compost all winter long. 

Add more mulch.

September and October are good times to apply a layer of mulch before winter. We like to mulch around perennials like asparagus, fruit trees, rhubarb, strawberries, and in between rows of fall crops. Mulch will help keep the soil around these plants warmer for a little longer and helps prevent heaving.

Sow more quick-growing fall veggies.

In zone 7a, where we’re located and farther south, you’ve still got time to sneak in a few more crops. You can still sow mustards, spinach, radishes, and turnips. 

Create season extension.

You don’t need a fancy greenhouse to extend your garden’s season. There are many affordable, easy ways to give fall and winter crops a little extra protection. From low tunnels to hotbeds, check out all of our ideas on our post, Easy Season Extension for Fall.

Sow fall cover crops.

If you only complete one fall gardening task, it should be to sow fall cover crops. Fall cover crops have a myriad of benefits. They protect soil from erosion, add organic matter, encourage beneficial insects, and more. Some of our favorites include crimson clover, winter rye, hairy vetch, Austrian winter peas, and white dutch clover. Learn more about choosing a winter crop for your garden and how to plant them here.

Collect leaves.

Autumn leaves are gold for gardeners! They’re a great carbon-rich ingredient to add to your homemade compost, and they make excellent mulch by themselves. You can also shred them to create leaf mold for DIY potting mixes.

All you need is a rake and somewhere to pile them where they won’t blow away. Multi-bin compost set-ups are great for this. You may also be able to collect them from friends and neighbors too. Just make sure the yards you’re getting them from haven’t been treated with herbicides that could contaminate your garden.

Be diligent about draining your hose and sprinkler.

Depending on where you’re located, the first fall frosts are getting closer. It’s time to make sure you drain any sprinklers and nozzles and disconnect hoses after each use. Taking care of your equipment this fall means you won’t have to buy new next spring.

Save seeds.

In much of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, September and even October are still bringing in good harvests. This can also be an excellent time to save seed from some of your favorite varieties. Check out our Seed Saving for Beginners article to learn how to save seed from tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, peppers, peas, and beans. Here are some of our other favorite seed saving posts:

Get a soil test.

Testing your soil is an often overlooked aspect of gardening. Fall is a great time to get this done so you can amend your garden before next season. Especially if you consistently struggle with certain crops, a soil test can make a huge difference in your gardening success. Soil tests will tell you the availability of macro and micronutrients in your garden, as well as the soil pH. They’re readily available through most county extension agencies.

Check out Understanding Soil Tests to learn more.

Leave some standing dead plants.

It can be tempting to give your garden a clean sweep in the fall but don’t do it! Leave some standing dead material like echinacea, sunflower, and other flower stalks. These are vital habitats for many beneficial insects, and they often provide winter food sources and perches for songbirds. 

The exception to this is removing pest-ridden or diseased material such as tomato plants with fungal diseases or dead asparagus stalks that had asparagus beetles. We recommend burning material like this as most home composts don’t get hot enough to kill insects and diseases.

Continue watering.

If your area is getting plenty of rain, this won’t be an issue. However, if you’re still experiencing some warm, dry spells, keeping up with watering is vital. Water any fall crops that are still growing and perennials, especially those you just planted this year.

Store crops properly.

If you’re still bringing in crops, it’s essential to harvest, cure, and store them properly. Here are a few of our guides to help you put up the harvest:

Sow flowers.

It may come as a surprise to some but fall is a great time to start your spring flower garden. Many cool-weather loving flowers are great for fall sowing, including violas, sweet peas, echinacea, and coreopsis. Check out our Spring Flowers: Fall Sowing post for more ideas and a few planting tips.

There are so many fall activities to enjoy, but don’t forget to take some time for your garden. Cool fall weather is the perfect time to complete these essential garden tasks. 

Using Manure in the Garden

It’s now believed that farmers have been using manure to fertilize their crops for at least 8000 years! Spreading manure on fields and gardens to increase soil fertility has long been common, especially when most folks were keeping livestock. Today, it can be more tricky. So whether you’ve got your own backyard farm or not, here are a few things you should know about using manure in the garden. 

Pros

  • It’s full of nutrients! Manure is an excellent source of primary plant nutrients nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. It also includes secondary nutrients; calcium, magnesium, and sulfur that may not be found in commercial garden fertilizers.
  • Manure adds organic matter and improves soil structure. This allows optimum root growth and increases the soil’s ability to hold moisture.
  • You can often find manure for free or use your own from your own livestock.

Cons

  • Fresh manure can contain bacteria that can contaminate crops and make you sick.
  • It often contains weed seeds.
  • It may contain pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals.
  • Fresh manure contains high levels of nitrogen, ammonia, and salts which can burn crops. 

Sourcing Good Manure

If you own livestock, using their manure is the best choice. To fertilize your garden, you can use chicken, goat, cow, horse, rabbit, and other livestock manure. Avoid cat and dog waste as their feces can contain toxins and heavy metals that will remain in your garden. 

If you don’t own animals, it may be possible to source manure from a local farm. However, you may want to ask some questions. Herbicides can stay in manure and ruin your garden, so it’s essential to ask if the animals were allowed to graze where an herbicide was sprayed. 

It’s also worth noting that not all animal manures are the same. Manure from herbivores like horses and cows has a lower nitrogen to carbon ratio than omnivore manure like that from pigs and chickens. Therefore herbivore manure won’t burn your crops even if it’s fresh. You should also note that horses don’t digest seeds, so horse manure will have more weed seeds in it. 

Composting Manure

Some of the “cons” of manure are easily taken care of by composting it. Composting your manure will kill any bacteria and allow it to mellow, so it’s not high in nitrogen, ammonia, or salts and won’t burn your crops. A good, hot compost pile can also render weed seed inviable. 

To compost manure, you’ll want to follow the same techniques we discussed in Black Gold: Making Compost. Mix your nitrogen-rich manure with good sources of carbon such as old leaves, straw, or shredded paper; alternate layers as you build your pile. Keep the pile moist and turn it over every few weeks to encourage aerobic decomposition. It’s ready when it looks like black, crumbly soil and is no longer hot or smelly. 

You can apply composted manure to the garden the same way you use your regular compost. Spread a few inches on a bed before planting, add it to homemade potting mixes, or side-dress crops. 

Aging Manure

Your other option is to age manure rather than compost it. It’s exactly like what it sounds. You pile it and leave it. This process can take longer than composting, particularly if you’re starting with manure that’s high in nitrogen, like pig manure. 

Applying Fresh Manure

If you want to apply fresh manure, you need to select “cool” manure like horse, cow, or rabbit manure. Other manures, including goat, poultry, and pig, may burn your crops. Goat and sheep manure may be okay if it’s mixed in with carbon-rich bedding like straw or hay.

One of the safest ways to use fresh manure is to follow the USDA National Organic Program Guidelines. They state that if the crop may come into contact with the soil, whether it’s touching them directly like with beets or splashing on them like with Swiss chard or cucumbers, it must be applied 120 prior to harvest. If the crop won’t be in contact with the soil like corn or dry beans, the manure must be applied 90 days prior to harvest. 

It’s a long time! This timeframe keeps crops safe from bacterial contamination such as E. coli and Salmonella. However, many home gardens don’t feel the need to follow such stringent guidelines. Just make sure you wash your veggies well if there’s a chance they’ve come into contact with the manure, especially if you don’t know where the manure came from.

Can You Use “Humanure?”

Using composted human waste to fertilize crops used to be common throughout much of the world. Composting human waste can reduce pollution and water consumption. Setting up a composting toilet is also much easier and cost-effective than installing a septic system and is a popular choice for off-grid and tiny homes. 

So is it safe? Yes, when done correctly. There are a number of fairly basic considerations to composting human waste. For example, you want to ensure your compost bins aren’t on wet ground or somewhere they could contaminate ground or surface water. You should also compost your waste for a year before use, and you should use it around fruit trees, berry bushes, and ornamental plants where it won’t get on food crops. Modern Farmer has a more detailed piece on humanure you can find here.

 

Growing, Storing, and Using Fall Turnips


The first day of fall is just a few weeks away! Most planting is done for the season, but you still have time for a few crops in the south, including turnips. These versatile vegetables are one of our favorites for their greens and their sweet, mildly spicy roots. 

Turnip Varieties

At SESE we carry 5 varieties of turnip. They each have their have unique qualities that may help you select one for your garden.

Amber Globe (Yellow Globe) Turnip (63 days)

One of our favorites for fall, this variety dates back to before 1840. These turnips mature in about 63 days and are best when harvested at a diameter of 3 to 4 inches. Their sweet, fine-grained flesh is creamy yellow. 

Purple Top White Globe Turnip (50 days)

Purple Tops are our go-to for classic turnip flavor. This variety dates back to 1880 and gets its name because the tops of the roots turn purple where they’re exposed to sunlight. They mature in about 50 days and are best when harvested at 3 inches in diameter or less.

Scarlet Ohno Revival Turnip (55 days)

These lovely scarlet-skinned turnips are a Japanese variety reselected by Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seeds. They produce some round and some flattened roots. The leaves are shiny and hairless with pink and scarlet stems.

This is an Open Source Seed Initiative variety. The OSSI pledge: “You have the freedom to use these OSSI-Pledged seeds in any way you choose. In return, you pledge not to restrict others’ use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives.” Read more about OSSI here.

Seven Top (Southern Prize) Turnip Greens (45 days)

This variety dates back to before 1880 and is grown only for the delicious greens, not the roots, which are woody. It’s a popular southern variety and great winter green. The leaves grow 18-22 inches tall but should be harvested when young and tender.

Included in Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste. Read more at Slow Food Foundation.

White Egg Turnip (48 days)

Ready to harvest in just 48 days, this fast-growing variety is popular in the south. It’s named for its egg-shaped roots, which grow partly above the ground and have a slight green tint on the crown. It’s a good bunching variety, and the flesh is white, fine-grained, and mild-flavored. 

Amber Globe (Yellow Globe) Turnips

Planting Turnips

The key to great turnips is preparing your soil. You want loose, friable soil to allow roots to expand. We recommend forking your bed and adding a couple of inches of finished compost. We generally recommend against fertilizing. High nitrogen can cause turnips to grow large leaves and tiny roots. 

Turnips should always be direct sown. Sow seeds 1/4″ deep and thin to 2-4″ apart, rows 10-12″ apart. Thinning is essential for proper root growth. Fall plantings should be watered consistently if there isn’t rain, especially as the seeds are germinating.

Keep the beds weed-free and mulch around the turnips with straw, old leaves, or other natural mulch. 

Harvesting

When harvesting leaves, it’s generally best to harvest them when they’re fairly small. They’re best when they’re young and tender, especially if you’re using them raw. Cut leaves about 2 inches above the crown. 

Roots can be harvested at any size but are generally best when they have a 2 to 3-inch diameter. 

For longterm storage, harvest roots after it has been dry for a couple of days. A couple of light frosts can make roots sweeter but be sure to harvest before any hard frosts. Gently pull the roots. You may need to use a fork to avoid damaging them.

Storing

Turnip roots can keep for up to 4 months when stored properly. Brush off as much soil as possible but don’t wash your roots. Any bruised or damaged should be set aside for immediate use.

Using a sharp knife or shears, trim leafy tops to 1/4 to 1/2 inch above the root. Don’t trim root ends or hairs; this invites rot!

Turnip roots store best between 32° and 38°F. A root cellar is ideal but, an insulated outbuilding, cool corner of a garage or basement, or a root clamp can also work. 

They can be stored in various containers, including plastic totes, waxed cardboard boxes, 5-gallon buckets, or even an old cooler. It’s best if there’s some airflow, so avoid putting the lid on tight, and you may even want to drill some additional holes in the container. 

In these containers, you want to keep your roots from touching the container or each other. To do this, you can layer them in damp sand, sawdust, or even old leaves.

You can also store turnips in your refrigerator in the crisper drawer. You don’t want them to dry out, but too much moisture can cause them to mold. It’s best to use perforated plastic bags when storing them in the fridge. Try to set the bags in so that the roots in each bag are in a single layer.

You should check on your turnips every week or two and remove any beginning to soften or rot. The smallest roots generally don’t store as well and should be eaten first. 

Freezing

Alternatively, you can cube, blanch, and freeze turnips. Blanch turnips for 3 minutes, immediately cool them in ice water, drain well and freeze. 

Using Turnips

Depending on what variety you grow, turnips provide two useful and tasty products greens and roots. Turnips roots are generally peeled, sliced, and cooked before using. The leaves can be eaten cooked or raw, especially if they’re young and tender. 

  • Add the leaves and grated roots to kimchi
  • Lacto-ferment slices of the roots to add a tasty crunch to salads and sandwiches.
  • Roast them with a bit of olive oil, seasoning, and other root veggies.
  • Add the young leaves to fresh salads.
  • Use the roots and greens in soups.
  • Grate the roots up for spring rolls and wraps.
  • Sauté the tops as you would other greens.
  • Carve the roots into Jack O’Lanterns! In 19th century Ireland, turnips were the traditional JackO’Lantern and were thought to help scare away evil spirits.
  • Enjoy the greens on New Year’s for good luck.