Kate Jerome column – Kenosha News
I have to finally admit that my tomato plants are not going to give me any more tomatoes. The huge sodden masses sitting out in the garden are a sad sight, waiting to be pulled and disposed of. I love this time in the garden, when I get to pull all the old foliage, leave clean, bare soil for the winter, and put the gardening season behind me.
The vegetable garden is my first priority in fall clean up because it is the one area of the yard where it is critical to get rid of overwintering pests. It’s not just a matter of having things look neat and tidy for the winter, although that’s a pleasant side effect.
Even though we often talk about how good a practice it is to return vegetable matter to the soil to help enrich it, in the vegetable garden this is best done with clean compost rather than just digging in plant waste. Many diseases and insect pests spend their winter in old vegetable stalks and leaves.
Tomatoes are probably the most critical since the blights that attack them spend their winter as dormant spores in diseased foliage. So, it’s not a good idea to compost tomato foliage and stems unless you have a really hot compost pile. It’s better to cut them up and send them off to the city compost where you can be assured that the fungal spores will be killed and they won’t be around to infect next year’s tomatoes.
Pepper and green bean foliage should also be disposed of, especially if you had any signs of viruses. Viruses cause stunted, distorted leaves and possibly a mosaic pattern on the leaves. If you have no signs of these problems, it’s okay to compost your leaves in your own compost pile.
While I am cleaning things up, I like to make a quick sketch of the vegetable garden so I know where things grew this year. As good as I think my memory is, spring planting time often brings with it a bit of amnesia about last year’s garden. Having a sketch tucked away with the seeds lets me plan effective rotations.
Planting crops such as tomatoes, potatoes and peppers in a different spot each year helps eliminate some disease problems that may linger in the soil. Also, some insects lay their eggs at the base of favorite plants, expecting tasty meals the following year. You can outwit them by planting something they don’t like in that spot.
Get rid of squash and cucumber foliage with mildew at the city compost and dispose of the old corn stalks after decorating for the holidays since corn borers overwinter in them. Be sure to clear all of the weeds from around the vegetable garden since flea beetles, Mexican bean beetles and squash bug larvae will spend the winter there if they can’t find comfortable garden debris.
Kate Jerome, a Kenosha resident, holds a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin and is the Urban Farm Director at Gateway Technical College. She writes a bimonthly vegetable column for Wisconsin Gardening.
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