5 Late Summer Family Garden Chores

Late Summer Family Garden Chores

September is here and the days are becoming shorter, nights are becoming cooler… These environmental changes trigger responses in plants telling them it is almost time to hibernated, or if you are an annual, go to seed and die.  Here are five suggested garden chores you can do with your family before the first freeze and the first snow fall:


  • Make pesto. Basil likes long hot days and those are looking like a thing of the past. My basil right now looks a bit yellowish and limp. Every day that goes by now without it being harvested will result in less pungency and fewer leaves. Picking and washing the leaves is a great task for kids. While basil stinks dried it is excellent frozen. Stuff a freezer bag full and enjoy all fall.


  • Plant greens. Am I mad you ask? No. If you plant hardy greens now (kale, chard, mescaline, spinach, etc…) they will germinate, grow and die back for the winter. But come spring they will be off and running as their hardy roots will not die. This will give you a first harvest around late April rather then late May. If you cover it with a germination/frost protection blanket, this will give you a jump start of about four additional weeks!

These apple are gnarled & misshaped, but tasty!

  • Glean apples. Did you know that Massachusetts is the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed? Every time my family drives from the Hilltowns down to Hadley,  we literally pass hundreds of thousands of pounds of local organic fruit, rotting on the limbs as we drive by.  Safely stop the car, shake the tree, fill the hem of your shirt and hop back into car. Fun for the whole family! Yes, those road side apple trees, that old abandoned orchard, that gnarled old thing in your back yard…produces really tasty fruit. Many apple varieties keep for months, make great pies or are good fresh eating.  Alternatively, your family glean and together donate the produce to your local food pantry.


  • Pot herbs. I have had good luck digging up my: basil, parsley, oregano, hyssop and lemon balm in the fall. Not so good luck with my cilantro (it has a tap root & it bolts quickly). Spade the roots a few weeks ahead of when you will remove them from the garden. When you finally take them from the garden (around mid September most years) take a 15″ diameter rootball with the herb. Pot up in a large pot and put in a sunny window. Give the children the responsibility of watering them 1x per day and pulling off any dead leaves.


  • Plant a cover crop. Vegetables take, take, take from the soil, rarely giving back. For most people, the task of obtaining and spreading manure is an odious one. An easier option after your final harvest would be to toss down a handful of plant seeds that give back to your soil, rake and water.  Kids can help every step of the way! This will improve fertility, suppress weeds and benefit wildlife. My personal favorite is buckwheat. It germinates fast, grows quickly, flowers (which the bees love), and seeds (which my ducks love and winter kills).


Jim McSweeney

Jim is a certified arborist, certified horticulturist, licensed pesticide applicator (needed for the application of organic pesticides in MA) & a professional landscape designer with over 15 years experience. He is also the owner of Hilltown Tree & Garden LLC. Jim is on the faculty at the New England Wildflower Society, teaching courses on a diverse range of topics. He lives and works in Zone 5 (Chesterfield, MA) with his family. Once a month here on Hilltown Families you will find timely gardening tips, from a pro in the field, that can be easily used by both avid and novice gardeners, specific to Western MA.

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