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Photo by Tom Hodgson.

By Jennifer Fairfield

What kind of weird September weather was that?

We had late-September weather at the beginning of the month and more like July weather toward the end.

Late September should be a time for cool-temperature plants to be happily growing and producing, but the lettuces that I planted in late August suffered from the excessive heat, and some of my arugula bolted. On the other hand, my tomato plants produced like crazy, as did my peppers and beans.

That weather party seems to be pretty much over now though, and we seem to be getting back to normal temps, which means freezing temps can’t be too far off. These temperatures are much more conducive to getting work done outside than what we had last week, but I highly recommend getting your fall clean-up chores done sooner rather than later – despite the prediction for another short warm-up this week, we will be seeing cold temperatures before too long.

October Featured Product

Radius Tools – This month’s featured product is actually a line of products from an Ann Arbor based company – Radius Garden.

If you’ve been in the store looking for tools, it’s likely you’ve heard me talk about this line. There are many reasons I like them, including the fact that they are sturdy and dependable. The biggest reason though, is that they are designed to make gardening easier on you.

Their hand tools – trowels – cultivators, transplanters, and weeders – have handles that put your hands and wrists in a more comfortable, neutral position, which puts less stress on them. The long tools – shovels spades, weeders, forks, etc. – feature an “O” handle that makes them easier and safer to use.

I started using their tools years ago, because I had developed pain in my hands and wrists (arthritis in my thumb joints from too many years of pulling weeds, and carpal tunnel syndrome in my wrists from too much time on the computer).

I found their tools to be much more comfortable to use, which allowed me to spend more time working in my gardens without being in excruciating pain. Radius Garden’s motto is “Garden More, Hurt Less” which is something I can totally get behind. Their tools are well-built, and are backed by a lifetime warranty. If you haven’t tried them, you really should.

Vegetable Garden:

If you still have things growing in your garden, that’s great, but if you hope to have them continue to do so, keep row covers handy for when we get frost, which is pretty much guaranteed this month – there is a 50-percent chance that we’ll have frost by Oct. 5, and a 90-percent chance that we will by Oct. 19. Some crops, such as kale, cabbage, and broccoli can take a bit of frost, but most other plants in the veggie garden won’t survive without a little protection.

Once you’ve harvested all of your warm-weather crops, pull out and compost the plants, unless they have signs of disease. Diseased plants should be tossed in the garbage so that you don’t run the risk of reintroducing the disease to your garden in the compost.

After cleaning out your garden, it’s time to think about adding things back to it, and I don’t mean plants (though there is one that should be planted this month, but more on that later). I’m talking about nutrients.

Healthy soil is key to a good garden. If you haven’t done a soil test recently, do one now. A soil test will tell you what your garden is lacking, and working on fixing that now can help get your plants off to a better start in the spring. You can get a quick-and-easy soil test at The Garden Mill, or send away to MSU Extension for a test kit that gives you much more in-depth detail about the state of your soil.

October is ideal for planting bulbs, even in the vegetable garden. The bulbs I’m referring to, of course, are garlic. I might have mentioned this once or twice before, but in case you missed it, I love growing garlic. I typically grow somewhere around forty heads of garlic every year, and it’s never enough.

If you’re a garlic lover, you really should try growing your own. It’s really easy to do, and the results are fabulous. Our seed garlic (what garlic grown for planting is called) came in a couple of weeks ago, and is ready to go in your garden. We have five different varieties available, ranging from mild to spicy. I’m happy to make recommendations and give you tips from my years of experience – just ask.

One last chore in the veggie garden this month should be making notes of what went right, what went wrong, what you’d like to do differently, and what you want to make sure to do again. It’s much easier to do that now than to try to remember next spring.

(Part two will publish tomorrow.)

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