Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Leaves and Garlic

By Dennis Domrzalski

OCTOBER 18, 1999:  The plants, even the weeds, are dying. The leaves are falling from the trees, and the canopy of green that covered the garden is turning brown to reveal the brown dirt of the garden.

Yes, it's fall, a time of depression for many gardeners.

But don't be depressed. Don't be sad that the growing season is ending and that the precious, delicate tomatoes, peppers, squash and other vegetables you planted in the spring will soon freeze to death.

Be happy, because fall is really the greatest time in the garden. Everything that you might have done wrong this past year, especially in terms of soil conditioning, can be rectified. Now, when the wind is howling and you can see your breath in the morning air, you can start preparing for the best garden you've ever had -- next year's garden.

Get out there and feed your soil. Feed it as much as you possibly can. Feed it until it's stuffed. Feed so that it will produce tomatoes as huge as pumpkins and pumpkins the size of some politicians' egos.

You feed the garden by adding organic matter to it. There are several ways to do this. Even now you can plant cover crops such as rye or buckwheat over the entire garden. After the stuff has grown a few feet tall, till or dig it under so it can rot and be eaten by the worms and bugs and microorganisms that are in the dirt. The bugs will digest and excrete the stuff and, presto, you've got new, highly fertile soil. You can never, especially in the desert, give your garden too much organic material.

Not only will the organic material add to the soil's fertility, but it will also help it retain moisture, which, again, in the desert is a high priority.

So plant the cover crops, or go to the nurseries and buy bales of peat moss or bags of compost and dump them out onto the ground.

If you can't afford peat moss or compost or even bags of cow manure, don't despair. You can fill the garden with loads of organic material and do it for free.

Just think leaves!

Leaves are one of the easiest and most overlooked ways of adding organic material to the garden. Rake the things up and put them on the garden. Ask your neighbors for their leaves -- but only after they've raked and bagged them up. Go up and down the street and take the bags of leaves sitting on the curbs and throw them on the garden. Get as many leaves as you can. You won't be sorry.

Fall Planting

Fall is also the time for planting some of next year's root crops, especially garlic. There's a reason to plant garlic in late October and early November. The bulbs will go dormant while the ground is frozen. But with spring's erratic weather and constant thaws and freezes, the bulbs will root and send green shoots out of the ground. With each subsequent frost and thaw there will be another shoot. The shoots, or the leaves, turn sunlight into food for the bulb in the ground. The more tiny shoots there are on the plants when the weather finally breaks and the plants start growing full-time, the more sun they'll be able to collect and the more food the bulbs will get. That should mean garlic bulbs as large as a mean man's fist.

Onions will also survive the winter and send out shoots in warm, early spring weather so that when the weather warms for good, they'll have a good jump on the growing season.

But before you plant, adhere to the most important rule in gardening: Observe!

Go out into the garden at different times of the day and look at which parts get sun. Remember that the sun is now low in the sky and that it will get lower until Dec. 21, when it starts getting higher. So make sure you put the garlic and onions in a place where they will not only get sun in the winter, but in the summer as well.

Carrots and Stuff

If you grew root plants like carrots and parsnips, don't worry about the coming winter and don't think you must go out into the yard and dig them all up. You don't have to. Use the garden as a big, outdoor refrigerator. Leave the carrots and parsnips in the ground, but mulch them heavily with leaves or straw and go out and yank them out when they're needed for a soup or hearty stew. This way you don't have to worry about bagfuls of carrots going bad in the fridge. The ground will keep them fresh. And parsnips acquire a nut-like flavor if they've endured a bit of frost.

So welcome the fall and winter. Out of death comes life, especially in the garden.

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