Here in Portland, we’re experiencing a gloriously sunny and warm late-September. Those green tomatoes that’ve been hanging out on the vine waiting for the right weather to ripen have a fighting chance to turn colors…just as the trees’ leaves are about to do the same.

Cloche hoops readyAt this point in the year, area gardeners still have choices to make about how to use their garden space for the next several months: plant and protect hardy edibles for a winter garden, or put the garden to bed for the winter. Most likely, you’ll do some of both–and like a patchwork quilt, that is a great idea.

If you have beets, carrots, Brassicas, or peas growing from late-summer plantings and want to harvest them through the winter, by all means–give it a shot! Use season extenders or other crop protection methods to tuck them in, and then keep them accessible and pest-free till harvest-time.

If well-established, the ground will act like a refrigerator till you’re ready to take your root veggies in; immature leafier plants will go dormant and then begin growth again in spring, as long as they’re undamaged in the meantime.

In terms of planting, it is a gamble (but probably one worth taking) to put in some very short-season crops such as lettuce, arugula, and radishes that you may be able to harvest before the first frost. Also, garlic and onion sets need to be planted now, so that they’re ready to take advantage of the first rays of next spring’s sunlight to begin growth.

If you’re not excited about getting out there and traversing your garden Young garlic, mulchedplot during the winter, we suggest “putting it to bed:” planting your garlic and onions, of course, (covered by a 6 inch layer of straw) and cover cropping or sheet mulching the rest of your planting area. Bare soil through the winter is to be avoided: all it does is get compacted by heavy winter rains and let the nutrients leach out.

Now’s not a bad time to install garden infrastructure, either–especially with the weather as fine as it is. But gardeners’ overall focus should be on cleanup and winterization: getting rid of pesky pests and invasive species; amending planting areas not currently in use with lime, if needed, and a slow-release complete organic fertilizer; taking out tender crops that have finished their work for the year; and (above all!) protecting your soil.

Garden cleanupOn our end, we’d love to help you out. Check out our Seasonal Specials page for discounts available through October 31 and our Classes page for our remaining fall gardening classes. And finally, see our October 23, 2009 post for our last year’s list of top five fall garden activities. Good luck, and have fun in the fall sun!