The growth in most vegetable gardens is about done. Cooler night temps and fewer hours of warm daylight drastically slow things down.
Thoughts turn to cleanup, and what to do with all of those green tomatoes? Since Colorado can have warm days yet, as long as there is no threat of a hard freeze, let those tomatoes and beans stay on the vines to continue to ripen. Harvest them right before the frost.
Root vegetables such as carrots , beets, turnips, etc, can actually stay in the garden, even through the winter if you mulch them properly. These cold tolerant crops should be allowed to grow as long as possible, for best flavor. During the cool nights, they will accumulate higher levels of sugars, making them better tasting and more likely to survive freezing temps. Before the hard frost, hoe soil over the root crops to protect exposed “shoulders,” but keep the green leaves uncovered to let the plants continue to grow and sweeten. If hard frosts are predicted, cover the plants with blankets, row covers, loose straw, or leaves, and then uncover them when temperatures rise above freezing. As winter deepens, cover the crops with a light mulch, approximately 1′ deep. Putting the leaves into trash bags will keep the wind from blowing them away and will also make it much easier to move them aside to harvest the crops as you like.
Cut thyme, basil, oregano, cilantro, etc., and bring them in to dry. Store them in a cool, dry place. You can also freeze herbs in water in ice cube trays and use them to flavor soups and stews all winter long.
Gather seeds! Generally, it is best to collect seeds just from heirlooms in order to produce the same plant. Many other will cross pollinate and not produce a like crop for you next year. Be sure to save seeds from the marigolds you planted with your veggies as well! And got any morning glories? Those are wonderful to save and plant in early spring. A money saver and you’ll enjoy blooms earlier than most by planting them early.
Make a map of where everything was planted this year. After the spring thaw, you may not remember exactly where you planted the peas. Having a map is important so that crops can be rotated yearly in order to keep the soil fresh and lively.
Finally – Add fertilizer low in nitrogen and spread 2″ of compost over the top of the garden. There are many types of composts and composted manures. If you are not testing your soil to know exactly what nutrients it may need, talk to your garden center about what might be the best, most neutral product to choose. Another good idea is to mulch your leaves and spread them on the beds. Then you’ll be ready to till it all up and plant come spring!