Veg Garden Cleanup Timing

Are you a gardener that ekes the last bean out of your vegetable patch before tidying up for winter? Do you put row covers down and nurture spinach through the winter?

Not me!

As much as I enjoy growing things (and then eating them) and being in the garden, I’m looking forward to the end of the season. I’m tired of kale and watering and picking worms off of cabbage. This was a strange year for my garden. It was beautiful but not productive. Now in mid-September, there are a few green beans left on the vines, but mostly it’s leaves. Tomatoes looked good all summer;  even now there’s no blossom rot or fungus, but tomatoes were never abundant, and I expect to harvest only a final bowlful before the plants are bare.

In a perverse way, this is my favorite time to garden. I like to rip it all up.

garden cleanup

It’s my animals’ favorite part of the gardening season, too.

The goats don’t get any grain. Those bellies? They’re helping me to compost the garden waste.

goats await greens


Some see the end of the summer season with sadness. But, my gardening companions greet it with glee,

Pip eating


and gusto.

Caper eats a leaf


The chickens get their share. They find bugs on the plants, they eat the leaves, and they shred the stems. This all stays tidily in their own compost pile, which will be a soft and interesting place to scratch even as the temperature drops and the ground freezes.

greens for chickens


Sweet Phoebe fills up on the end-of-summer bounty. I leave a few green beans in her pile because she loves to munch them.

Phoebe eats


I still have lettuce, bell peppers (although they never did turn sweet and red), Brussel sprouts and carrots in the ground. Once those are gone, I’ll let the hens into the vegetable garden to turn over the raised beds and dig up grubs. That might be sooner rather than later. It was 37 degrees this morning (for those of you who go by Celsius, it’s 3°.) I’ve a hunch that the first frost will come early this year.

Some of you don’t have this obvious ending (and relief that the work is over) to your gardening cycle. Do you take a break anyway, or are you planting your winter crops?


  1. We have an ending alright but because we plant a lot of root veggies t last us through the winter, we are about to build a cold cellar. This year, much will stay in the garden (safely I hope) for at least another month. We are currently harvesting sweet potatoes and chufa nuts.

  2. I too like a good tidy up and pull everythng up and leave it at that until seed sowing in the spring. I have lots of green runner beans at the moment, but have read that these are poisonous to all birds. I have in the past given my chickens green beans, with no ill effects. (I dare not do so anymore). I find there is a lot of conflicting advise about chicken keeping in my quest to learn as much as possible. I have read that beans are OK cooked, but not to be given raw! I trust your knowledge and expertise implicitly – what would you say? Seems a shame not to be able to give them to the chickens as part of their healthy green treats!

    • Green beans are totally fine for hen. Perhaps there’s some sort of plant that is called a bean but is actually something else? Normal string beans, haricot vert, etc are fine!

      • Yes I also read somewhere runner beans aren’t good. But regular beans ok.

    • I looked into this a bit. Many plants have varying levels of toxicity. Some people avoid potatoes and eggplant because they’re in the nightshade family. I don’t. But I wouldn’t eat only eggplant for a week! Kidney beans and the scarlet runners have a toxic component in the bean – not the leafy part. It’s neutralized by cooking. Of course, we’re not cooking excess from the garden for our chooks, but the hens aren’t going to eat much if it’s part of the fall garden cleanup compost. Also, hens do avoid the bad stuff (if given a chance and they are offered a variety.) So, I’d have no worries tossing the old plants into the compost that the hens have access to. I wouldn’t feed a bowlful of raw, fresh kidney beans.

  3. I should be planting some fall crops like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and beets but the tomatoes and green beans are still doing great. I canned two quarts of tomato sauce yesterday and my counter is still loaded with Roma tomatoes. I have a salsa recipe I’d like to try this next weekend. Soon it will be time to plant garlic, onions, and potatoes!

  4. Wish I was there…37 sounds heavenly..GAWD..the heat here is terrible…104 in my barn in the shade. I have old lady birds in cages in cool spots and a sick bird in the house. Hope this passes soon. I am with you Terry..I love ripping things out I am tired of out…feels good!!!!!

  5. Gardening IS a lot of work. I must be a glutton for punishment. I have planted my fall garden, broccoli, collards, turnips, leeks, bok choi,and kale ( I plant this only in the fall here). My chickens love collards and they last all winter here until it gets very very cold. I am taking up the eggplants and last of the tomato plants today. I had rain just at the right times this summer, so the garden did pretty well. I ordered garlic which will be here soon for me to plant. Always something to do here in the garden, but I love doing most of it. This fall I am trying 2 new projects: growing carrots and putting up a row cover over the lettuces.

    I love the boy’s rotund bellies.

  6. Even though it is over 100 degrees in SoCal this weekend, and we are in a disastrous drought statewide, I wouldn’t trade this climate for anything else. Veggie gardening is my mental and physical therapy, and I gladly engage in digging and planting all year round. Since it’s mostly about the process, I don’t much care about the end results; but interestingly enough, I find that the less I worry about how much I am producing, how it looks, etc., the better things go. This summer I had spectacular bell peppers—enough to eat a ton and give the rest away—and tomatoes out the wazoo. Sauce for the winter, and there are still a ton of yellow blossoms in the beds. The chickens are feasting on the end-of-season squash; sadly, they turn up their noses at green beens.

  7. I am finishing putting up basil and I lopped the tops off my tomato plants along with excess branches to force them into finishing off the tomatoes on the vine. But we’re in a cold snap here as well. So if it doesn’t disappear I’ll pick the best of the green tomatoes and put them on cardboard in the cellar to ripen slowly over a couple of months. Brandywines are not the best tomato for doing this, but even if only half make it, it’s better than store bought. And, no, I do not like fried green tomatoes. Bleck.

    It was too cool a summer here for much bounty in the tomato/pepper department, but my parsley has gone completely nuts. I’ve never had such good parsley. *Shakes head* I would rather have had the peppers. I am getting ready to plant garlic in pots. Yep, pots. They’ll spend December/January/February (unless February starts warming up) in the garage so they will be cold but won’t freeze solid. We’ll see how that turns out. With luck, I’ll have some large fresh garlic early next summer!

    • Interesting idea on how to start garlic. Alas, my garage, even with doors closed, does freeze solid (ruined a whole crop of butternut one year thinking they would be safe there.)

      • The whole crop? Oh, ouch. Our garage is attached to the house but no direct heat source. Having seen disaster happen to others, the first winter we lived here I put gallon ice cream buckets full of water every few feet from the door all the way along the outside wall and checked them. As long as I keep everything at least 4 feet from the main door, we’re good. However, your winters are MUCH colder than ours. My sympathies on that. I hate winter and the cold.

      • Garlic is easy to grow here in New England, but it needs to be planted in the Fall and it has to be a variety that is hardy for our cold Winters. Russian Red and German Extra-Hardy are two hardneck types that do well. I plant cloves in a couple of raised beds in late October, after a killing frost. After the first freeze, I mulch the beds with a few inches of straw … not to protect the cloves from freezing, but to keep frost heaves from forcing them out of the ground. I never plant garlic from the supermarket. Most of the garlic grown in the U.S. is from California and is not cold hardy, and much of it is sprayed with chemicals to inhibit sprouting.

        • I grew garlic one year, and I much enjoyed cooking with the garlic scopes. But, it took up more space than I wanted to give it. Now I just rely on my neighbor’s generosity :)

  8. I take a break as well. My tomatoes were wonderful this year, but nothing else did well. Like you said. WEIRD year for gardening.

  9. I have spinach and Brussels sprouts. Some lettuce but not as many varieties in spring as I still have tomatoes. Every year I think about doing cover crops in my raised beds but too tired to continue on. Glad for a break

  10. Love the Pip happy photo!! Been 104-106 here in Santee, CA last couple of days. :(

  11. I’m so ready to pull everything up too! I agree, it seems like the first frost is going to come early in New England! I still have string beans and my eggplant are still going very strong…even after our resident woodchuck at the leaves off the plant early in the summer. I plan to take all my remaining tomatoes inside and let them ripen on the sill. Do you treat your raised beds with any compost before everything freezes?

    • The compost that has sat in bins composting all summer, gets dumped and raked into the raised beds. Then it ages further over the winter. All is nicely ready in the spring.