Harvest reflections, winter farm preparation & dahlia digging tips.
by Jeana Steiner
Winter is coming – The big push to winterize The Farm!
We say harvest is like running a marathon or climbing a mountain. We train all year long caring for the crops, planting seeds, weeding, pruning, monitoring water, tending to the animals to prepare for the “harvest marathon on the farm”. This year, Chad joined the farm team full time at the beginning of September and boy am I grateful to have him full time by my side. When harvest comes it means several 12-15 hour days and lots of sore muscles. It means that we have to suck it up and work on, early mornings to beat the heat and now bundling up as we prepare for winter. Although Fall is one of my favorite seasons, I’m glad to say we are at mile 22 of this year’s Harvest Marathon.
Caption: kind of a “before” as many of the rest of the pictures show the “after” and our first snow.
As a farmer, we continue to learn every year and as the yearly farm cycle repeats itself – we can better predict and anticipate what needs to be done. Trying to be as efficient as possible all while still managing the unexpected.
Last year the day after the Pumpkin patch closed, we started planting tulips. We saw the forecast with snow coming and thought we better get ahead of it in case it stays around. We could see the snow line coming down on the mountains around us and we were in a race to beat the weather to get the tulips in the ground. Well, it snowed Nov 6th, the day after we finished planting the tulips and we didn’t see the grass again until mid-March.
This year- we decided to get the tulips in the ground before the patch closed for the season and thankfully, we did. That allowed us to plant the bulbs and have time to get the dahlias dug before yet again another early snowfall. With nearly 500 dahlias planted, Brontë has been working the past 2 weeks, double checking the dahlia map and making sure every variety is labeled correctly. This week our goal was to get the garden ready for winter, dig the dahlias and put everything away in the garden. Jesus, Junior, Brontë and I have been working hard this week and were able to finish with the dahlias on Tuesday as we could see a possibility of snow Wednesday morning. Well yet again, an early snowfall in the Chelan Valley. Wednesday, 10/25, we woke up to snow on the ground. With a sigh of relief- the tulips are all tucked in the ground, the irrigation lines are blown out and the dahlias are dug and put away.
Here in Eastern Washington, it is important to dig your dahlias before winter. The timing to dig your dahlias is important. You ideally want to wait until the first frost for the dahlia tubers to cure properly and minimize shriveling in storage. I’ve learned you want to pay close attention and don’t want to delay this project because if the clumps freeze in the ground they will not survive. Two take home points here: 1) be sure to watch the weather and 2) don’t delay getting the dahlias dug. When the ground temps freeze, the tuber will essentially turn to mush and rot if they are left in the ground. In warmer climates like Western Washington (USDA zone 8A) or higher it is not as important to dig your tubers. In these climates, you can successfully overwinter your dahlias by cutting down all the foliage on the plant and simply placing at least 1 ft of leaves or straw over the plant to protect it and it will grow again in the spring.
The first autumn frost is always a bittersweet time for me as it means the flowers are done blooming for the season and that is never easy. But the anticipation of seeing all the tuber clumps under the soil is really exciting. Over the winter months, we’ll divide the dahlia tubers and get them ready for our Tuber sale starting December 1st (grab them early).
Caption: one of the final bouquet’s of the season… so many beautiful dahlias.
I hope you all have enjoyed the season of flowers this year. Best of luck winterizing your own gardens, digging your plants, and preparing for a restful winter season.