Care of Fall CropsThe beginning of fall garden care comes when the weather and the radio station announce the arrival of the first fall frost. Your main concern then should be to harvest all ripe, tender crops. Summer squash, melons, eggplant, cucumbers, peppers and okra are some of the crops that cannot withstand frost and should be picked immediately. Store the vegetables in a place where they can be held until needed for eating or processing. If the frost warning is mild (predicting no lower than a 30 degrees F low), try covering tender plants such as tomatoes that hold an abundance of immature fruit. Baskets, burlap or canvas sacks, boxes, blankets, or buckets can be used as covers. Warm days after the frost will mature some fruit as long as the plants have nightly frost protection. Much will depend on your garden's microclimate. If your spot is low and unsheltered, it is likely to be a frost pocket. Gardens sheltered from winds and on the upper side of a slope are less susceptible to early frost damage.
When using a cold frame to extend the harvest season, be sure to close the top on frosty nights to protect the plants from the cold. When the sun comes out the next morning and the air warms, open the cold frame again; but leave it closed if daytime temperatures are low.
Cool-season crops such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts can withstand some cold. In fact, their flavor may be enhanced after a frost. They cannot stay in the garden all winter, but do not need to be picked immediately when frost comes. Kale, spinach, evergreen bunching onions, lettuce, parsley, parsnips, carrots and salsify are some crops that may survive all winter in the garden. Mulch these overwintering vegetables with 8" of mulch to prevent heaving of the soil. Most of these vegetables can be dug or picked as needed throughout the winter or in early spring.
Prepare perennial vegetables for winter by topdressing with manure or compost and a layer of mulch which reduces damage from freezing and thawing. Dead leaf stalks of perennial vegetables such as asparagus and rhubarb should be cut to the ground after their tops are killed by frost (though some people prefer to leave asparagus stalks until late winter for added insulation). Don't forget strawberry beds. Remove weeds that you let grow when you were too busy last summer. If strawberry plants are healthy and vigorous, transplant some of the runner plants by carefully digging a good-sized ball of soil with the roots. Mulch the bed well with a light material. Old raspberry canes can be cut back at this time or late in the winter.
When tender crops have been harvested and overwintering crops cared for, pull up all stakes and trellises in the garden except those that are marking the sites of overwintering plants. Clean stakes and trellises of remnants of plant materials and soil. Hose them down and allow to dry. Tie stakes in bundles and stack them so that they won't get lost over the winter. If possible, roll up trellises and tie them securely. Store these items in side your attic, barn, or shed in an area where they are out of the way, and where rodents and other animals cannot use them as winter nests.