The worst f-word in the garden: Frost! The emotional journey of winterizing my gardens

Frosty pink zinnias

All gardeners know that the happiness gleaned from growing and picking our own food always comes to an end for the season.  It is replaced with feelings associated with cleaning out the garden beds and putting the soil to bed for the winter.

I started to clean out the vegetable gardens last week. Frost was pending so I thought it best to get everything picked before I got too busy and forgot, wasting unpicked vegetables.

Cleaning the garden beds can feel daunting, but this year I just took it one raised cedar frame at a time. I told myself that I could stop at any time, but I didn’t want to stop. Pulling up each plant and turning the soil ended up being cathartic and exhilarating. Each bed looked so clean and organized that it made me feel excited about what I could plant next in the blank soil canvas!

I started by picking every tomato from all eleven plants whether it was ripe or not. There were only a few ripe tomatoes waiting and the other fifty were completely green.  They will still ripen just not outside. The most challenging ones to pick were the cherry tomatoes as each plant had over a hundred little yellow, orange, red, and green tomatoes that required precision, a gentle hand, and a bent back. After I pulled up the massive tomato plants I tossed them into the chickens’ run for them to eat.

img_1415The tomatoes share a garden bed with the beans so they were next. I picked the rest of the yellow, green, and purple beans. The purple beans were the first plant to mature so the bushes had been dormant then started to produce leaves again recently. I went ahead and pulled them up anyways as the beans would never grow before frost. I threw the yellow and green bean plants in the chicken coop too. The purple ones were thrown on the compost pile because they are toxic when raw.  By this time the hens were in a frenzy of excitement over the garden garbage salad as well as the bugs in the roots.

chickens eating tomato plantsOnce the tomato and bean plants were gone it left massive empty spaces in the gardens. I should have felt sad but gardening is hard work and I felt ready for a break from it all. Plus it was exciting to think of what I will plant next spring. What changes would I make? Will my seeds survive and grow into plants as awesome as their parents?

Next I pulled up snap pea and cantaloupe vines. This meant I had to pick the two cantaloupes clinging to the vine. They still felt a bit too firm to eat but if left they would go to waste. The third cantaloupe was ripening in the cucumber bed. I planted both cantaloupe and cucumber vines together. Some grew on the soil and some grew up the trellis. When I grabbed the cantaloupe in the soil, I was surprised that it was completely liquid inside and was just being held together by a thin shell.  It burst as my hand squeezed it.  This whole time I was waiting for it to ripen and it was turning to mush. One more reason to grow them on a trellis!

Winterizing garden cantaloupe

Next, I tackle the cucumber vines. I had taken my gloves off to be gentle to the cherry tomatoes but forgot to put them back on – until I grabbed the cucumber’s cactus-like vine. A few curse words, later the gloves were back on and the vines are uprooted. I didn’t want to throw these vines in with the chickens for two reasons:they are prickly and would have hurt the chicken’s digestive tract, and I had a cucumber beetle infestation so any larvae in the root system needed to be killed off. I threw the vines into the fire pit to be burned.

Last, I picked any pepper that was almost ready. One yellow and four red! About forty unripened ones stayed on the bush. Now all that remains in the garden is one cherry tomato plant that is growing like crazy so I will leave it another week, the rest of my red and orange pepper plants which are only just starting to turn a bright colour so I will leave them as long as I can, and my Kentucky Wonder beans still growing strong on the trellis.

Fifty green tomatoes, four ripe white tomatoes, a thousand cherry tomatoes at various stages of ripeness, a pile of of beans, and two cantaloupes sat staring at me. They were the last of the season so they deserve the utmost respect. None of these will be wasted I promised myself.

red and yellow peppers

The rest of the gardens are empty.

Black soil and bugs.

They look beautiful and clean.

I can’t wait for spring so I can start it all again!

Then it happened … frost…

Frosty pink zinnias
Frosty pink zinnias
Frost dusted Spirea
Frost dusted Spirea

 

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