We have come to our short autumn season in Alaska, a time of year when I start to lose sight of my garden chores and move into hunter-gatherer mode. But don’t abandon your garden completely, as there are things you can do now to help create a more productive and less-pesty garden for next year.
In your garden, removing leftover plant residue and adding it to a hot compost pile can help get rid of potential disease pathogens, like overwintering fungus. This includes raking up leaves around your fruit trees, collecting carrot tops or other refuse in the veggie garden, and cutting back stalks of spent perennials. If your compost pile is the cold/passive type, do not add any plant material that might be diseased since it won’t get hot enough to kill any of the pathogens.
Were cutworms or root maggots an issue for you? A light tilling in the affected beds late in the fall may expose the overwintering larvae or pupae to freezing temperatures and help reduce the number of adults that emerge next year.
Did you see a lot of voles in your garden this year? If so, continue your trapping regime this fall. Mousetraps can be placed perpendicular to established vole runways; voles are creatures of habit and often run right over the pan of the trap if it is put in their path. Alternatively, traps can be baited with peanut butter or apples and placed in areas where activity is high.
Voles do not hibernate, which means they can be active all winter, feeding on unprotected tree trunks, lawns and bulbs. You can protect your prized fruit trees by adding a temporary wrap or screen around the trunk so rodents cannot feed on the bark. Voles climb to the top of the snow, so make sure the wrap extends well above the snowline.
Fall is also a good time to note where crops are growing and plan next season’s rotation accordingly. A simple way to rotate crops is to not grow plants from the same botanical family in the same bed each season. Rotating crops helps break disease and insect life cycles because pests are often host-specific, meaning that if you deprive the pest of its host it cannot survive. A rotation that keeps plants of the same family from any one area for two to three years is best, but one-year rotations are still worthwhile.
If you don’t know the different families of plants, winter is a great time to educate yourself. The borough library has an excellent gardening section that you can access for free!
While you are making notes for next growing season, make sure to recount what worked well and note changes you’d like to make for the coming year. Was there a particular variety that did well this year that you want to plant again? Or did a new variety produce poorly and won’t be making its way back into your garden next year?
Take notes now and store them away with your garden supplies so when it’s time to start seeds you will have that important information readily available. Remember — a healthy plant growing in the right location is better able to resist insects or diseases it comes in contact with and is the first step in managing pests.
Darcy Etcheverry is a program assistant with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service agriculture and pest management program in Fairbanks. She can be reached at 474-2422 or firstname.lastname@example.org