Saying goodbye to this year’s garden, and a bit on bats

Closing out this year's garden means looking ahead to next year's. — Photo by Susan Safford

Elusive bats, fluttering at dusk, their Hallowe’en shapes silhouetted against the dying light, symbolize how much of the quotidian is unknown to us. Bats may be living nearby, perhaps even sharing our houses, without our having any awareness of their proximity or ways.

After having delightedly learned about the bat colony in the dead oak “habitat tree” nearly felled by line-clearers, mentioned recently in Garden Notes, I wanted more information about bats. Deeper understanding of the role of Earth’s sole flying mammals in the ecosystem has generally converted former revulsion to appreciation.

Bats may eat more than their own weight in insects every night. It has been said that agriculture’s and humans’ existence would be impossible were it not for bats’ control of insect populations. This growing appreciation has ironically coincided with the appearance of a devastating ailment of bats. White Nose Syndrome, a mysterious fungal disease of unknown origin, now threatens bats’ own very existence in eastern North America.

I looked into my Audubon guidebook to North American mammals. Apart from the color photographs and distribution maps, there was scant information. Then I found a website, What to do if you have bats and do not want them; what to do if you do not have bats and want them; how to build, site, and put up bat houses.

Lacking suitable natural habitat, typical roosting sites of bats include behind the fasciae or rake boards of wooden buildings; in attic and barn loft spaces; and behind chimneys. Bats are able to squeeze through surprisingly narrow openings. They often look for locations that are warmed by morning sun.

Erecting a bat house nearby and then carefully closing off all access to the former site is one technique for getting unwanted colonies to relocate. Bat houses make building projects suitable for student shop projects or DIY craftsmen, and have broad appeal for those interested in insect control on their property.

What to do in the garden

Fortunately, closing out one gardening year means starting preparations for the next! Homegrown, the vegetable gardeners’ forum, is re-organizing for the coming year, with meetings scheduled for 3 to 5 pm the third Sunday of each winter month at Agricultural Hall.

Take samples for soil tests. Learn more about UMass soil test services online at or call 413-545-2311.

Sow a cover crop on cleared areas of the vegetable garden.

In the ornamental garden, take the opportunity to reorganize the beds or layout. Many perennials will have increased in size; it is not too late to lift, divide, and reset them in an improved arrangement, adding some of whatever compost you have made to the planting hole.

Much biomass is now exiting gardens as fall cleanup accelerates. Start a compost pile if you have not already done so. Putting leaves and debris curbside or taking it to the landfill is discarding an invaluable resource for your own garden or plantings, not to mention placing a burden on municipal facilities.

Herbs in pots, such as thyme, parsley, rosemary, and sage, brighten winter cookery. Check houseplants that have summered out of doors prior to returning them inside for insects such as pill bugs or slugs, especially in the drainage hole area. Repot if necessary and spray with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap.

All standing seed heads support wildlife in the garden. Sedums and grasses may be part of your garden’s winter look; however, they may also splay as light levels decrease; in that case, cut down now.

Can the garden ever have too many spring bulbs? Locate what you have, dig, and divide them. Add those you have been wanting. The small bulbs, such as the bulb iris (shown in photo) require just three inches of planting depth, making them just about the easiest plants to enjoy next March, April, and May.

“Backyard Harvest”

I have previously recommended Dorling Kindersley’s bestselling, award winning, and visually stunning reference books for adults and children. DK has established a worldwide reputation for its innovative nonfiction books in which the unrivaled clarity of the words and pictures come together instructively.

DK’s “Backyard Harvest: a Year-Round Guide to Growing Fruits and Vegetables” (first American edition, 2011, 256 pp., $19.95) is no exception. The main body of the volume’s organization is by month, starting with January, containing sub-sections such as “Ready to Eat;” “What to Sow;” “What to Do;” and “What to Harvest,” clarifying how to keep the produce coming — for novices, as well as for more experienced gardeners with overly busy lives. The first 21 pages discuss how to use the book and basic how-tos of vegetable growing and seed starting.

Sub-headings for each month include crops of particular interest for that part of the gardening year. February, for instance, contains a double-page spread on potatoes, when one would be ordering seed potatoes. In addition to vegetable gardening, this book has a strong emphasis on fruit growing. Spotlighting care and varieties of soft and orchard fruits encourages gardeners daunted by home fruit growing. Harvest and storage techniques of garden produce are clearly demonstrated in color photographs. The back of the book contains good crop planners as well as color photos and control measures of common pests, diseases, and nutrient deficiencies

Using “Backyard Harvest,” Island gardeners and those further north will need to adjust spring planting times to suit their climates. A small quibble is that while the book contains many recipes of food preparation and preservation, which are listed in the index, even nicer would be to have a separate recipe index for them.

Presented by Friends of Chilmark Library, Farm Institute, M.V. Agricultural Society, and Polly Hill Arboretum, Adam Nicolson speaks on Sissinghurst: A Castle’s Unfinished History, at Agricultural Hall, 27 Oct, at 7 pm.