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It is time to start tucking the vegetable garden away for the winter. As sad as this may be, a few simple steps taken now can help make next year's garden even better.

For your vegetable garden, start by pulling out any dead plants. You can add these to your compost pile, but only if these plants have not suffered from any diseases during their growing season. Plants with diseases or any pest problems need to be totally removed from the garden, or you risk having the same, or worse, problems next year.

If the plants have had a healthy season, you could take a tip from Herman Krehan. He pulls his tomatoes and peppers out of the ground and instead of moving them into a compost pile, he digs a hole and buries them in the beds. These plants will decay and become compost right in the beds.

If you still have some vegetables growing, you will need to take precautions against the coming frost and cold temperatures. Keep in mind tomatoes can be picked green, wrapped in pieces of paper and stored in a cool, dry spot where they will ripen during the coming weeks and months. Lettuce and other cold weather crops will keep in the ground. You could even leave some carrots in the ground for picking during the winter. Remember where they are, or mark their location so you can find them in the snow.

Once you have taken care of the plants, turn your beds over and add compost, peat or manure. All of those leaves you have raked are great to add to the vegetable beds, but you will want to mulch them with a shredder, or run them over with your lawn mower. If you put the leaves in your beds whole, they will take a longer time to decompose and could cause some problems.

Fall is the time to plant a cover crop to add nutrients and break up heavy soil. Broadcast rye or buckwheat over the vegetable garden, and then rake the seeds under. The cover crop will begin to grow this fall and will be ready to turn over in the spring as you get ready for the planting season. This cover crop is also referred to as green manure. It adds great nutrients to the soil, helps to break up very heavy soil and also prevents erosion. Cover crop seed is inexpensive to purchase, gives you some pretty green growth to watch during the non-gardening months, needs no care and helps add nutrients to your soil.

Cut back your herbs after they die back, or leave some for nice winter texture and color. Fall is also a good time to put some peas in. Plant them now and they will sprout in spring to give you a nice early crop. Remember, fall is also the time to plant your garlic; put some in now for harvesting next summer.

Cover your asparagus and strawberries with mulch to keep them from freezing and remember to make some final notes in your garden journal to help with next year's garden.

Be sure to clean all of your tools before you put them away for their long winter's nap, and take care of power machines as well. Tillers, lawn mowers, saws and trimmers are also part of closing down this season's garden.

If you do a good job of preparing your vegetable patch now, you'll be able to get a jump on next season's garden.

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