What are some of the things to do now to get ready for next season?
Ernie: Well, the vines are going to die after you get a frost. So you can then take your cages, or stakes and put aside to be used next spring when you plant your new crop. You can leave those stalks and tend to them later or pull all the stalks up and put them in a pile and burn them. After you get that taken care of, you can even till your soil if you like. I think it is a good idea to till the soil about once a month even during the winter time, so that you are bringing up to the surface any weeds, seeds, things like that, and the cold weather will kill them.
Why do you burn the tomato plants?
Ernie: That is to destroy any harbor for bugs and worms and things like that. They will run over in your garden and make a home out of plants like corn stalks, tomato plants and that sort of thing. Bugs make a home there for the winter and next spring they will be ready to get back into your garden plants. So burning them is a good way to dispose of those.
Any other tips for preparing for next season?
Ernie: Let’s see. You can be making your plans for next season, going through your garden catalogs; you can visit your seed store, making a list of things you want to plant, and things you need to do. You can go ahead and buy fertilizer; a lot of seeds won’t be available until next spring. You have to wait on those.
What about people who want to use their current seed –let’s say they had a really good crop from certain plants and they want to save the seed and plant them next year?
Ernie: Some seeds, you can do that. The hybrid seeds are not as good for that, because you may get a plant from the hybrid seeds, but you won’t get any fruit. Take squash, okra, beans, peas, things like that –you can take those seeds, save them over the winter. It is not a bad idea to put them in a bag, in your freezer. Hold them until next spring and they will be fine. It is just the hybrid seeds – most of the tomato plants you buy are hybrids -so, they are not going to do too well. But the little cherry tomatoes and things like that, they are not hybrid, so you could save those. If you had initially dropped them in the ground, they are going to come up next spring anyway.
How do you know if you have a hybrid tomato?
Ernie: It’s on the label when you buy it.
So for example, heirloom tomatoes would not be a hybrid?
Ernie: That’s true, yes. Heirlooms have been saved over and over from the same plants, so those are going to be OK.
Is there a certain procedure for saving those seeds, for the tomato plants?
Ernie: It is a good idea to cut the tomato, take the seeds out and lay them out on a paper to dry. Then put them in a plastic bag and put them in your freezer and keep them over the winter. Then you could plant them indoors starting in February or you can wait and plant them outdoors. It would probably be best to start indoors in February.
We have a video done by Still Lake Nursery on how to plant tomato seeds for next year once you save them. Or if you buy your own seeds, they show exactly how you do it. Anything else before we move on?
Ernie: I guess we pretty well covered it. It is a good idea to wrap your plants to last longer through the cooler weather. Once a month you want to till your soil during the winter months for weed control for the coming season in order to keep your ground in good shape and ready to go next spring.
Does it make sense to put some kind of mulch or compost on the ground now?
Ernie: I would suggest to not do that because it can become a harbor for insects if you cover the ground with mulch. It will be best to wait till you get your plants out, to mulch it.
We will be having another session on composting coming up sometime soon and we will get that one done here too.
Ernie: Good, look forward to it.
Photo courtesy of Mattox