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I was astonished—and annoyed—to find ripe-and-ready woodland strawberries among the weeds in my home kitchen garden. The woodland strawberries around here are flavorless and dry which makes these volunteers “invasive weeds.” Ripe strawberries in November? Not in central Pennsylvania… until this year.

I planted a salad mix of lettuce seeds in September. Despite several frosts and one or two freezes, there are some beautiful leaves ready to harvest.

My home kitchen garden has seen a particularly mild autumn. We’ve had only ten nights with frost, and none colder than 26F. While the few cold nights killed off my tomato and basil plants, the dill weed still paints a wall of deep, frilly green at one end of my planting bed, and a small lettuce patch planted in late summer is calling me to harvest.


No surprise: There is still oregano. I added one plant about four years ago. Now there’s a five-foot diameter circle of oregano from which I use a few dozen sprigs each year.

For at least two weeks, I’ve intended to put the garden to bed. The last thing I figure to do each season is toss fallen leaves from my lawn onto the planting bed. When my wife put the kids on alert that this weekend they’d rake the yard, I knew I had to end my procrastination. The few things I did:

  • Cut the ties that supported my dead tomato stalks against the tomato stakes
  • Pulled the dead tomato plants and tossed them on the compost heap
  • Pulled the tomato stakes and leaned them against the side of the house (they may make it into the shed before snow falls)
  • A few tomatoes are trying to escape the garden. They lay waiting under cover of dandelions, hoping I’ll get careless and leave the rodent fence down.

  • Pulled the stakes that supported the last pea trellis; I’d left one of three pea trellises standing to support a late planting—too late a planting: the young peas froze though some of the plants continued to grow
  • Dug out a few of the largest, hairiest weeds… mostly so I could see what types of roots they had
  • Inspected the awesome dandelion crop and surveyed the undergrowth for anything unusual
  • Collected gardening tools I’d conveniently stored in the garden through the season and leaned them against the house
  • Opened several panels in the rodent fence so it’d be easy to rake leaves into the garden

Free Mulch for my Home Kitchen Garden

After lunch today, the kids raked the leaves and moved all of them into the garden. They spread the leaves over all the weeds, right up to—but not covering—the perennials I want to preserve. They also left the lettuce poking through. Most obviously: they didn’t cover the dill; they didn’t have enough leaves to cover the dill.

There is still coriander; I’d hoped it would re-seed itself, but this year it didn’t. Hours after I took this picture, I saw two juncos plucking the seeds off the dried plants.

So, the garden is in bed for the winter. Snuggled under about a foot of dead leaves, the dandelion greens may rot a little, or they may go dormant and enjoy the soft cover. Whatever the verdict in the spring, I know I’ll be digging deep to pull weeds as I prepare to plant my home kitchen garden.

I was surprised even more than by the strawberries to find this critter on one of my tomato stakes. I thought these things flew south for the winter; this one must be waiting for cheap fares.

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7 Responses to I Put My Home Kitchen Garden to Bed

  • Amy says:

    Those woodland strawberries are doing their damndest to take over our landscaping in the backyard (in Illinois), but I do think they are pretty.

    I was thinking of using the abundant fallen oak leaves as a mulch cover over the winter. Is this a good idea considering that the leaves don’t break down? I’m thinking it would make it easier to remove them in the spring.

  • admin says:

    Amy: I think using leaves as mulch is a terrific idea, but you can probably find people who will argue the point. Ideally, you can run the leaves through a shredder or a lawn mower so they’re more “mulch-sized.” The greatest problem with using leaves as mulch is that they blow around easily… not like heavier tree bark, pine needles, or compost.

    When you say the leaves don’t break down, do you mean they won’t break down by spring? If you can get them to stay in place, they’ll break down–even by next spring there should be some good progress. When the snow melts, I expect to find a layer of leaves on my garden bed that’s about 1/8 inch thick. On top it will look like leaves pressed against the soil, but under that top layer, there will be a lot of nice humus that I’ll simply turn under wherever I dig.

    I’ve written more about composting and using leaves as mulch in the sister blog of this one: Your Small Kitchen Garden

    Bottom line: Autumn leaves make great mulch if you can keep them in place.

  • Amy says:

    Yes, the oak leaves don’t seem to break down. Others do, but the oak leaves tend to stick around forever it seems. Maybe I should collect some pine needles as well, I have them laying around my house under a few trees. Thanks for your advice!

  • Momisodes says:

    I love salad mix lettuce. That’s wonderful they survived the frost.

    I’ve never tried those strawberries before. They are rather colorful!

  • admin says:

    Amy: I could see it as an advantage that the oak leaves take longer to decompose… that gives weed seeds more to overcome in your planting beds. Still, all good things seem to end eventually. There’s an oak forest where I walk several times a year; the ground is spongy there from all the leaves built up. There’s little undergrowth, I guess because weed seeds can’t take hold through the leaves. A lot of gardeners prefer to compost leaves before using them on their gardens. My approach reflects my own sloth… and it works!

    Momisodes: I’ve read that some chefs serve woodland strawberries as some kind of delicacy. This works only if: 1. The variety of woodland strawberry they serve is different from what grows naturally around here. 2. The people eating the strawberries are gullible.
    I wrote a post about wild fruit on my cityslipper blog back in July, where I described these excuses for fruit: Wild Fruit

  • Very nice photos, I now feel inspired to begin gardening this Spring.

  • admin says:

    Amy: In case you’re still tuned in, I tracked down further encouragement for you to use oak leaves as mulch. Please take a look at this post on Kitchen Gardeners International.

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