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Talkin' Dirt - November 2016

by Mary Beth (The Pollinator) Riggs

November is the final month to prepare the garden for winter. It’s rather like tucking children into bed at night: They have played all day, and now they’re tired. There’s the bath-time ritual, followed by a quiet story before they snuggle under the quilt for several blissful hours of rest — for both of you.

The garden has been playing hard and growing for more than eight months. Now it’s time to get it clean and tidy before its winter rest. Just a few hours spent in the garden this month will ensure that you both reach spring with renewed vigor and enthusiasm.

Keep gathering those leaves. One of the beautiful aspects of autumn is that the wonderful tapestry of fall leaves is woven over a period of several months. Shades of crimson, amber and gold come and go as each tree and shrub takes its turn in the spotlight. For us, however, it means that just when we thought we had finished sweeping up leaves, we have to start all over again. Consider it your November workout, grab your rake and gather nature’s black gold.

You have several options: Add leaves to your compost bin, shred them with the mower and reapply them to a shrub border as winter mulch or discreetly corral them in a wire cage somewhere handy so you can spread them next year when they have decomposed into rich, dark mulch.

Protect your water features. Some of us are procrastinators, and some of us are just plain forgetful. To avoid creating dramatic ice sculptures, remember to drain small fountains and either store them in the garage for the winter or cover them to prevent water entering and freezing. Small submersible pumps are also best removed and stored indoors until spring.

Larger ponds and waterfalls may have a sufficient volume of water cascading through them that the entire body of water will not freeze, and the pump is either too deep to be affected or is in a protected enclosure aboveground. If you're in doubt, contact your local pond supply company for advice.

This is also the time to winterize your irrigation system. If you are using a simple drip watering system for all our containers as well as for our vegetable garden, the hoses can be left in place, but disconnect the battery-operated timers and bring them inside for the winter.

Landscape irrigation companies usually offer a winter service to drain the lines if necessary — contact them today.

Add a few inches of compost. Are you a lazy gardener? I am! If you apply compost to the garden now, the rains will help its nutrients leach into the soil, and the worms will till it while we’re nice and cozy indoors. Some gardeners prefer to mulch in spring. If your garden soil is in poor shape, I recommend adding compost in both fall and spring for three years and then once a year after that. Both seasons have their pros and cons, so make it work for your schedule — just do it!

An attractive compost pail will put food scraps to good use and reduce the number of treks out to the garden compost bin.

Become a child again. I visited a pumpkin farm last weekend. I felt a bit silly really. There were all these young families with excited toddlers on a treasure hunt to find the perfect pumpkin to carve, tottering through the rustling corn maze and playing on the old tractors. I began to wonder whom I could "borrow" a child from!

But of course you are as old as you feel. So you’ll find me crawling through the gourd tunnels, looking for the wartiest pumpkin and kicking through the leaves with the children.

Fall is for fun — have a wonderful month.

A tip from The 1899 Old Farmer's Almanac "Useful Hints": "Keep all fruit stones (pits), cooked or uncooked. Dry them slowly in the oven, put in a large jar, and in winter throw a handful on the fire of an evening. They will crackle for a moment, send up a bright flame, and fill the room with a delicious aroma."

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