I got a group email the other day from the coordinator of the community garden where Ben and I have a plot, asking everyone to please properly clean up their garden, now that the growing season was over. I’d noticed recently that lots of folks had in fact pulled up all their dead plants, composted them, neatly raked the ground, and some folks even mulched–most by mid-october! Our garden, on the other hand, was, as of late November, still full of yellowing, drying, dying plants, the occasional rotten tomato or slimy, overgrown zucchini that I might have missed while picking, along with most of our kale, still holding strong. Truth be told, after the mad rush of harvesting everything that needs to get out before the frost, I don’t usually do much with our garden. I know we should, and perhaps I will some year, but I generally just don’t. For one, I like to keep the kale in the ground as long as I can. Ben and I have often had success just covering the plants with a thick bed off straw, and then allowing snow to cover the plants as it will. With this kind of insulation, the kale is remarkably hardy–and it sure is a treat to dig deep into the snow for some still-green leaves in mid-January. The other reason that I don’t tend to do much “putting the garden to bed” at this time of year is that, as much as I love gardening, I’m usually ready for a break. And, I’m also still overwhelmed with preserving at time of year. After everything is harvested, the garden usually takes a back seat so that I can just get all the late season produce–apples, cabbages, kale, brussels–put up and stored properly. So, for us, the garden work just gets shifted to the spring. That’s when we add our manure and compost, and any mineral amendments we might need. It definitely makes for a lot of work at that time, but frankly I prefer doing it that way–spring is when I’m really excited about the garden and the upcoming growing season, so to me it hardly seems like work when we do it then.
The community garden coordinator later told me that it was fine to keep the cold-hardy greens there if we wanted to, but in the end Ben and I did end up harvesting them earlier than usual. And, we also pulled out and cleaned up all the other dead plants from our community plot, like we were supposed to. I can definitely understand that in a community garden set up, where so many people are involved and people are sharing a lot of common space, it works best to have some sort of guidelines regarding keeping plots well maintained and tidy–that’s all just part of what it means to garden in a community space. I’m just glad that we can still do our own thing in our back yard gardens.