The first heavy frost in the fall is much like the old school bell or the whistle at the factory beckoning all around to “get to work!”
I usually begin with those things that are the most tender and stand a chance at being harmed by any following frosts. Once the leaves of the pumpkins, squash and zucchini have been wilted, the next frosts will attack the unprotected fruits. It is best to pick them all and take them into a warm dry place to finish ripening and “curing”. The zucchini and any other summer squash should be used up as soon as possible, but the winter storage members of this cucurbit family can be cured and stored for many months. I have had well cured pumpkin stay firm and quite useable up into April. The secret to long keeping in this family is to keep them warm and dry until around Christmas. The skin should be so hard, that it is difficult to puncture with your fingernail.
Summer bulbs and tubers should be lifted and allowed to cure and dry before being put in storage for their winter rest. Dahlias are best dug and spread on boards on a few sawhorses in a dry basement. I find they keep best if allowed to remain in the entire clump. I remove much of the soil and when dry place them in boxes on a shelf in the root cellar. They can still breathe, but they must be totally dry or they will rot in storage. Leaving them in clumps seems to prevent drying out over the winter. In the spring, when the eyes are beginning to sprout, you can separate them into new smaller clumps (at least one eye per piece) and get more of these beautiful flowers.
Gladiolas should be lifted and tied in small bunches and hung to dry. Some books suggest cutting the tops back to 4 inches (10cm) if the tops are hit by frost. When dry, the tops will pull off easily and the old corm should be removed from the bottom of the new corm before storage. Storage can be successful in peat or even in a box where it is cool and dry. If you had any problems with thrips (brown leaves and stunted plants) dip the bulbs in a mild bleach solution before storage.
Any time after the tops have died down, potatoes can be dug and put in storage for winter eating. You can always dig a few hills and check to see if the skins are set and not “slipping” off. If the skins slip off while digging and handling, the tubers will not keep as long in storage. Storage around 38-40F (4-5C) is ideal for potatoes. For eight weeks after digging, remember they go into a “sweat” and give off excess moisture. Be sure to have good circulation at this time (open root cellar vents) or they will tend to rot.
This is also the time to get the garlic beds planted. Adding lots of good rotted manure and compost really helps to produce a great crop next summer. Next week I will go over how to plant so you have a great garlic crop. The Robson Valley grows some of the best garlic I have ever seen.
During the rush to get all the fall chores done, don’t forget to take time to enjoy the beautiful colours all around us and to fall backwards into a pile of leaves before you move them to the compost pile!
By: Pete Amyoony