For homestead or hobby gardeners, Spring and Summer are the glory days. Everything’s blooming and growing and warming up, and it’s just a great time to be in the dirt.
Fall sort of gets a bad rap though. We tend to see Autumn as a time for winding down. The “dying” or “browning” of the agricultural world. And I get it. It sort of is.
But don’t fool yourself into thinking that Fall doesn’t require gardening work! If anything, it’s THE time for preparing and prepping for the coming Spring. Plus, just because things are cooling off, it doesn’t mean that the work of harvesting, weeding and tending your crops is over.
Here at Apple Valley Farm, we don’t have a huge gardening practice going on, but we have plenty of Fall homestead work to keep us busy on those cool mornings. Plus, the afternoons are also milder. Bugs are down. The pace is less hectic.
If you also have animals on your homestead, then you know that Fall doesn’t mean you get to kick back! But even without the care of chickens or rabbits or some other animal, there’s lots and lots of gardening-only work to go around.
So here are our Top Ten Suggestions for things you can be doing in your garden as Fall comes on the scene.
1. Keep Harvesting
Even as I write this in the first week of September, we still have plants producing. So now isn’t the time to let up on your harvesting. Keep picking and cutting to encourage your plants to produce as long as they can. The longer you keep the ball rolling, the longer they’ll continue to reward you.
Once you stop harvesting, many plants will think that it’s time to shut down. Many times, you can add several weeks to your growing season, just by continuing to pick. And if you’re having an extra stretch of warm weather, your plants will love the longer boost of output.
2. Plant Fall Crops
If you don’t have your Fall crops in the ground yet, it’s not too late. Especially if you’re in Zone 7 or warmer. It’s late…but not too late. We got our Collard and Beet seeds from Eden Brothers a bit late, but they’ll be just fine to transplant any time during the month of September.
You may even still have time to start your seeds, if that’s your thing. Just start them inside and get them up and strong before exposing them to the elements. Especially when you’re dealing with Fall greens, the frost only enhances the flavor, so don’t be afraid to push it a little.
3. Start Seed Saving
If you currently have heirloom or open-pollenating varieties, then don’t neglect to save your seeds. If you have hybrids, eh…probably not a great idea. But for traditional lines, now’s the time.
Our Okra is starting to slow down now, so we’re allowing the remaining pods to bolt. FYI, “bolting” is allowing the fruit that puts on to continue to grow on the vine (or stalk) until it naturally “goes to seed” and sort of dries out on its own.
Once we allow the okra to bolt and stay for a couple of weeks, we’ll pick it, de-seed the pods, then wash, dry and store them for next year. This is the process you can apply to most all of your remaining Summer plantings.
Fall is the perfect time of year to apply a fresh layer of compost. Regardless of your gardening method, compost is a great way to restore nutrients to the soil that your Summer crops have been depleting.
Tilling it in, after removing your Summer crops is common. But don’t disrespect some simple top dressing. Especially if you happen to utilize no-till gardening. Top dressing your compost is probably the easiest way to re-energize your soil.
Manure is also a great addition for your garden. Especially if you have raised beds. One note though about manure: be careful with it. Especially if you use chicken manure. It can be really high in nitrogen, which can be very tough on your plants, in excess. Try to use manure that is well-seasoned, if possible.
5. Tool Cleaning and Storage
All your shovels, picks, hoes, etc…many of those won’t see use through the Fall and Winter. Now is the time to show them a little TLC for all the work they’ve done for you during the main months of gardening.
We like to hose everything off well. Then once they dry, we brush any remaining dirt and funk off with a wire brush. The main thing is to ensure any buildup is gone so nothing remains to harbor any moisture that will sit there all Winter and promote rust and mildew.
After that, we like to spray our metal parts with a rust inhibitor like WD-40. Just spray it on lightly and let it sit. You don’t need to wipe it off.
For the wooden handles, hit them lightly with some 150 grit sandpaper and wipe on a coat of linseed or tung oil. Even a coat of wipe-on poly. Anything to add an extra layer of protection from the elements.
6. Power Tool Storage
We use hand tools here on the AVF whenever it’s feasible or possible. But we also use our fair share of power equipment. So when you’re dealing with chain saws, weed eaters, garden tillers, mowers…all those things have internal combustion engines that are going to sit for several months in the off-season. Or at least most will.
For one, if you’re not using Ethanol Free Gasoline, then start. The Ethanol additives in many of today’s gas products will literally eat away the rubber components when left to sit. So Fall and Winter can be literally cancerous for your gasoline-powered tools.
Aside from using Ethanol-Free Gas, you’ll want to drain all the remaining gas before cold-weather storage. Then add a Fuel Stabilizer to the equipment to help create a safe environment for them that won’t promote deterioration as they sit dormant.
7. Garden Bed Repairs
A Summer of work has probably taken a toll on your garden beds. Raised or not. So now’s the time to make some sorely-needed repairs while you have a little slower pace in front of you.
For raised beds, shore up your corners. Add some extra screws or maybe throw some corner braces on them. Also inspect your running boards for decay, rot or damage. Repair them when you can. Replace them when you can’t.
For ground-level beds, now’s the time to “repair” their borders and tidy up your edges. If you have artificial edging, inspect it for wear and repair or replace it as needed. A little work now will make the coming Spring a lot more pleasant.
8. Garden Trellis Upkeep
Trellises, Cattle Panels, Fencing and any other accessories you might use in your garden for climbing or corralling your plants will undoubtedly need attention. Inspect them for loose joints and add screws. Nails are easy, but don’t provide as much of a long term fix.
Look for rust on metal components. When you find it (and you will), sand it, clean it and apply rust inhibitor like you did with your gardening tools. You may opt for a clear spray-on coating. If you do, don’t use the rust inhibitor because the clear finish won’t adhere to it.
9. Declutter Large Bushes and Trees
Now isn’t the time to prune, but decluttering will definitely be easier as growth starts to slow. All those dead and dying limbs and branches that you’ve been putting off…now you can get them out of the way.
Small ones can be great compost additions, and larger ones can go on the burn pile. We have a burn pile that we build until our local forestry folks lift the local burn bans, usually around October. And don’t forget to use the ashes (in moderation) in your compost pile and directly around your plants.
If you’re already getting some falling leaves, you can get a jump start by doing some pre-raking. These first leaves can go right into your compost bin.
Fall is a great time to add some cold-weather mulch to your year-round plants. Trees, bushes, shrubs, vines, perennials. Weeds and invasive plants are still looking for a place to put down roots, so to speak, so a fresh layer of mulch can help discourage over-wintering of any pesty friends.
For us, this year has been particularly wet. So watering hasn’t been a concern. But if you haven’t been blessed with a lot of rain, don’t forget to water your plants. They may be getting ready to go dormant, but they still get thirsty. So water them well, and use your fresh mulch to help keep it all in.
Hey thanks for joining us for our Top 10 Fall Gardening Chores For The Homestead! And by no means are these the only things you can be doing, but they’re definitely a great place to start.
I’ll include a few links below, to some of the items we discussed or related items to what we do here on the AVF. FYI these are Affiliate Links so when you click on one of them to buy that product online, we earn a portion of the sale. It doesn't cost you anything extra, but it sure helps us. So thank you! :)
Good luck and Happy Fall! Til next time…
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