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A Great Time To Till And Plant
by John Harmon
August 24, 2003

The signs of fall are all around us. My swallows have left for the year and are flying back to wherever it is that they flew in from in the first place. I'm still trying to convince them that blackflies are good to eat and they should stick around for a few more weeks but to no avail. We have had a number of hard frosts over the last couple of weeks and the potatoes are just black lumps of dead foliage in the garden.

It's the perfect time to do fall tilling in the garden. Tilling now will not only add all that vegetable matter to the soil improving it for next year but will also cut down on the weeds that will inevitably show up next spring. Some of the weed seeds will be buried too deeply to make it to the surface and the life-giving sun next year.

This is also a great time to till in some extra soil amendments. If you have tested your soil this fall and have a good idea of what's missing or low you can till those things in now. I'm tilling in a large load of manure this year and the only problem with that will be next spring's crop of weeds that will grow. Even though it's well rotted and supposed to be weed free I have never actually seen completely weed free manure or compost except from my neighbor's lamas. The nutrients and better water holding capacity will be worth the extra weeding. I'll be trading time weeding against time hauling water next spring.

Fall tilling had an added extra benefit too. You will get rid of the Red turnip beetle. This bug, Entomoscelis americana is native to North America and relatively abundant throughout the Aspen Parkland Region of the Canadian Prairies and the Peace River District of Alberta and British Columbia. It's fairly new to the Yukon in great numbers.

Eggs are deposited in the soil from early August to late October near the plants on which the adult beetles feed. The reddish-brown, oblong-shaped eggs are laid singly or in clusters in shallow crevices in the soil, or in loose soil under soil aggregates, leaves or other debris at a depth of less than one-quarter inch. Within two to three weeks of being deposited, the eggs are mature. They remain dormant until late March to early May, hatching in spring after snow has melted but before crops are seeded.

Cultivation is an extremely effective means of reducing Red Turnip Beetle eggs, larvae, and pupae. Cultivation after harvest buries the eggs and when they hatch, the larvae are unable to burrow out of the soil. Fall cultivation may cause 75-100 per cent mortality of newly hatched larvae the following spring. I have been tilling up the garden in both the fall and the spring and every year there have been fewer bugs of all kinds and this year not one Red Turnip Beetle!

Another thing you might want to try after tilling this fall is planting. A number of years ago I talked to the late Fred Dorward who gardened out on the Mayo road and asked him when he plants since he did fall planting every year with good success. He told me “I like to plant the first two weeks of October. The seventh to the tenth is about right.” Fred warns “ You have to watch out for run-off in the spring. If you have your garden on a slope the run-off from the snow melting can wash your seeds away.” Fred suggests rows across the slope with small hills to slow the water and prevent the seeds from being disturbed.

Fred also told me “ The fall planted vegetables do better than transplants. Transplants take longer to get going because of the shock of setting them out. The fall planted seeds grow faster and will overtake the transplants.” He went on to add that a good rule of thumb for what to plant is stick to small seeds. He hasn’t had much luck with seeds like peas because they soak up moisture before freeze-up and split. If you are going to try peas wait till the last possible day before the ground freezes and try to pick a dry patch of soil. Some of the other vegetables he recommended for fall planting are carrots, Brussels sprouts, radishes, spinach, beets, Swiss chard, parsnips and lettuce.

I've tried the method for a number of years now and it works except in those years when we get a prolonged mid winter thaw. If it gets above freezing for too long the seeds may sprout and then refreeze which of course kills them. Even if that happens you are only out a few seeds and can still re-plant when spring really does arrive.

With the summer and the harvest winding down you should have the extra time to get out and do some fall tilling and planting and it will give you the time to kill a few blackflies the swallows left behind.

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