Good night, dear gardens

The garden season has wound down and the gardens have been put to bed for the winter.  (In fact, we did this already nearly 2 months ago, but time has flown, and I haven’t had a chance to post this yet…)  It’s always a bit bittersweet: it’s hard to pull out the plants that you’ve put so much work into and that you’ve gotten to know over the past months, but it’s also nice to wind down after a busy season.

This fall was quite warm, making it even harder to pull out the plants.  “Maybe these tomatoes will still ripen, maybe these eggplant and pepper blossoms will still fruit…” I would keep thinking, knowing full well that it wasn’t warm enough for them any more.  But maybe, just maybe.  It’s always easier after a good frost, when the plants are definitely done.  But we didn’t have our first frost here in Toronto until the night of October 27th, and even then, that didn’t do in all of the plants.  I had to have the gardens ready for the winter by the first week of November, though, and it was pretty good to have a set deadline.  The first week of November was my last week at the schools (since after that I headed off to Northern Europe for about a month).

At the start of the fall, we spent a lot of time harvesting, but through the 2nd half of October and the 1st week of November, we pulled out lots of plants and added lots of compost to the gardens.  The kids really find joy in pulling out plants.  It’s pretty entertaining (as long as you manage to keep them focused on the plants that need to come out.  The worst thing for me to hear in the garden is “Was I supposed to pull this out?”  (I always ask them to ask before they pull, but sometimes that doesn’t quite happen…)  Luckily, the kids also really enjoy filling up buckets with compost and spreading that around the garden.

Putting the gardens to bed didn’t just involve pulling plants out, though.  It also involved planting some overwintering crops and cover crops.  We planted garlic in both of the school gardens, since it is a great overwintering crop.  It likes to be planted a couple of weeks before the ground freezes.  This gives it time to start putting down some roots, but not yet start growing above ground.  Another cool thing I learned about garlic (at the Toronto Garlic Festival at Brickworks) was that garlic takes a few years to get used to growing in a new spot (ie it’ll be pretty tiny for the first couple of years), so saving some garlic cloves to be planted the following fall is super important.  Good thing I had saved some of the garlic we harvested at Withrow in the summer to plant back in the garden in the fall.  For the Blake garden, I bought some local garlic at the garlic festival.

At Blake, we also planted some red clover as a cover crop.  My main goal for planting the cover crop was to hopefully help to avoid erosion.  After having put a whole bunch of lovely new compost on the garden, the last thing we want is for it all to wash away over the winter.  So fingers crossed that the clover set some good roots before the weather got too cold.  Since planting the cover crop pretty much just meant sprinkling some seeds on the empty plots and raking it in, we also did a lesson about erosion as part of this activity.  Using two containers – one with just soil and the other with a piece of sod with lots of roots holding the soil – we saw what happened to the soil in the two containers when it was “windy” (ie some of the kids blew on the soil) and “rainy” (ie some of the kids poured water on the soil).  At Blake there’s also a good example of erosion in the schoolyard close to the garden, so checking that out with the kids seemed to make the concept of erosion make more sense to them.  Of course we also chatted about why we want to prevent erosion in the garden.

As of Dec 14th, the clover had sprouted in the Blake garden.

Now just because the gardens have been put to sleep for the winter doesn’t mean that it’s time to stop growing your own food till the spring.  There are always sprouts in jars and herbs in windowsills, etc.

Happy growing!

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