The Changing Moods of Autumn

Those foxes barking at the moon
Tell me easy weather will soon be gone
Frost is in the air
Change is everywhere, darling
This time of year, a change comes over me

-Dillon Bustin

As autumn leaves begin to fall, days change from long to short, and weather changes from warm to cold, many of us, to paraphrase Dillon Bustin, feel a change coming over us. A change of clothing, a change of activities, a change of meals to be sure, but many of also feel a change from happiness and serenity to one of sadness and despair. We lament the disappearance of “easy weather” and dread the long dark nights, chilly temperatures, piles of blowing and drifting snow, and hazardous driving conditions. And this year we also lament all the spring and summer fun and frolic that COVID-19 has stolen from us, and we fear that that winter weather will only exacerbate this terrible pandemic.

But we gardeners know that, in the words of Audrey Hepburn, “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Yes, spring and summer do not last forever. But neither do fall and winter. All seasons have their time and when that time is concluded, the next season takes hold. Yes, autumn and winter can often be miserable and depressing. But they will eventually pass, spring and summer will once more take hold, temperatures will change from cold to warm, days will change from short to long, and we can once again be outdoors with our faces to the sunshine and our hands in the soil.

In the meantime, we can soothe out misery with some sadness-busting activities. We can write letters to family and friends – real letters, not e-mails or texts. We can relax and meditate. We can grow herbs, sprouts, and microgreens indoors. We can cook delicious meals with the garden vegetables we’ve preserved. We can eagerly anticipate the new gardening catalogs filling our mailboxes, and then we can look through them to plan out next year’s garden. Doing some or all of these can greatly help to make winter’s misery a lighter shade of blue. So cheer up, my gardening friends. Autumn and winter may bring on some sadness, but only for a short while. Soon, spring and summer will be at your door with a fresh delivery of joy!

Brown Gold for Your Garden

The leaves of brown came tumbling down
Remember
That September
In the rain

-Harry Warren and Al Dubin

The shortening days of autumn signal the leaves on the trees to stop producing chlorophyll. This, in turn, causes the green to slowly fade revealing the remaining colorful pigments. Soon, even those begin to fade away, and the leaves soon fall to the ground and start to decompose.

Most homeowners will merely rake the leaves into piles, toss the piles in bags, and bring those bags to the curb for the recyclers or garbage men to take away. But we gardeners know better than to do that. Instead of letting those leaves take up space in a landfill where they are no good to anyone, we use these leaves to enrich our garden soil and restore the nutrients that our garden vegetable crops have taken away. And unlike real gold, this brown gold costs nothing to “mine and refine.”

So how do we make the best use of this brown gold?

  1. Pile whole leaves on top of the soil as a mulch to protect bulbs such as garlic, onions, or even flower bulbs such as tulip, snowdrop, and crocus.
  2. Chop them up finely, add them to a compost pile, and let them decompose along with the rest of the material in there. Chopping is necessary, as it creates more surface area and allows the bacteria to decompose the leaves in less time. If your own trees aren’t producing enough leaves to give you sufficient compost, offer to take some from your friends and neighbors. I’m sure they’ll be happy to oblige, unless of course they want them for their own compost pile.
  3. Chop them up finely and work them directly into your garden soil. During the following three or four months of winter, the soil bacteria will break down the chopped leaves and release the nutrient material in those leaves into the soil. When spring arrives, you’ll have looser, lighter, more nutrient-rich soil all ready for spring planting.

So don’t waste this precious nutrient-laden material that Mother Nature gives us for free every autumn. Let’s recycle this precious organic material back into our gardens. It’s going to decompose and release nutrients no matter what we do or don’t do. So let’s work with Mother Nature. I promise you that if we do, then Mother Nature will work with us.

A Time of Change

Those foxes barking at the moon
Tell me easy weather will soon be gone
Frost is in the air
Change is everywhere, darling
This time of year, a change comes over me

― Dillon Bustin, Almanac
Slowly but surely, the world around us is changing as Earth’s Northern Hemisphere prepares for its long winter sleep. Squirrels are gathering nuts for winter food. Birds are flying south since food here will soon become scarce. And the lazy warm days of summer are turning into the cool nights of autumn, soon to be followed by the frigid snow-covered days of winter. Change is, indeed, everywhere, as Dillon Bustin sings.

squirrelmigration

 

It has been said that the only constant is change; that change is inevitable (except, of course, from a vending machine). The changes of autumn all around us make an excellent time to look back at our year and think about any changes we might like to make in our own lives. Yes, I know the tradition is to do that on New Year’s Day via the resolution. But let’s face it — New Year’s resolutions are well nigh worthless. They’re made in the heat of a holiday moment with a lot of fire and gusto that quickly gets put out by the snows and cold of winter. But carefully thought out life changes made in the lengthening cool nights of autumn have a better chance of sticking.
Fall is indeed a time of change. Let it change you too.

Don’t Let Autumn Get You Down

Country Road Autumn

The leaves of brown came tumbling down, remember
That September — in the rain.

― Harry Warren and Al Dubin, September in the Rain

 
I don’t know about you, but the coming of autumn brings on some wistful feelings inside. Seeing the multicolored leaves careening earthward reminds me that the long warm days will soon be replaced by long cold nights. And snow. Lots of snow.

 
Autumn also brings on feelings of bewilderment as to how the days managed to pass by in the twinkling of an eye. Wasn’t it only yesterday that the snow had finally melted away and the earth was bringing forth new life? Didn’t school just let out a few days ago? Why am I now seeing back to school sales in the stores? And wasn’t it just recently that I turned over the soil in the garden and planted the seeds and/or seedlings? Where did spring and summer go?

 
Autumn can also bring on feelings of regret for all the things we said we were going to do but didn’t. The friends not visited; the vacations not taken; the new hobbies not tried; etc. Once again, we let obligations, real or imagined, get in our way. Like thieves in the night, we’ve allowed them to steal time from us — time that should be spent enjoying all the warmth and joy that the spring and summer have to offer.

 
But even now, it’s not too late. Cold weather doesn’t start popping up until late September or early October. Bone-chilling cold doesn’t start coming around until November and the snow doesn’t start rearing its ugly head until late November or early December. There is still time to enjoy the warmth before it’s all over. So visit that friend. Throw that party. Take that vacation — even if it’s only for a weekend. And whether or not you planted a vegetable garden in the spring, you can also plant a fall vegetable garden. Those same cool season crops you planted in the spring, work equally well in the fall.

 
So do it now, while the days are warm and still somewhat long. Then you’ll have no time for bewilderment and regret, as it will be replaced by sweet memories that will keep you warm all winter long.

A Fall Garden? Why Bother?

Fall Vegetable Garden

 

When we think of gardening, most of the time we associate it as a spring and summer activity. We start our seeds and/or plant our seedlings in the spring, cultivate the garden in the summer, and harvest the fruits and vegetables of our labor in the fall. However, fall is also an excellent time to start a garden. But why? We’ve already put in enough grunt work for the garden we have now, and we’re getting a fine harvest from it. Why should we go through all that again twice in the same year?

 

Well, I’ll tell you why. There are many reasons for, and advantages to planting a fall garden.

 

  • Fall vegetable gardens require no special care, because autumn conditions can be more favorable than summer conditions to certain vegetable crops.
  • Fall-grown vegetable crops are usually more productive and of higher canning and freezing quality than those which mature in midsummer’s hot dry period.
  • There are fewer destructive insect pests to infest your garden and destroy your plants.
  • In the fall, there are fewer weeds infesting the garden and competing with your garden plants for water, nutrients, and light. This makes weeding less time-consuming and less laborious.
  • There is usually more rainfall in autumn then there is in summer, so the time and effort spent watering your garden is reduced.
  • If a light frost should occur, it probably will not harm your crops. In fact, frost actually improves the flavor of certain vegetables – kale, turnips, parsnips, collards, salsify, and Chinese cabbage.
  • Fall-grown vegetables such as leeks, salsify, and parsnips can be mulched, left in the ground, and harvested during winter and early spring, ensuring a steady supply of fresh vegetables when nothing else is growing.
  • Onion top sets from winter onions can be planted for fall use. If you choose not to use them, you can leave them in the garden over the winder. In the spring, they will sprout and they can then be used as green onions. Be warned, however that these overwintered onions can sometimes be quite pungent.

 

So as you can see, active gardening does not have to end in the fall. In fact, if you plan your plantings correctly, you can have garden vegetables of one kind or another available to you all year long. That’s certainly one way to take the edge off of winter.

The Bittersweet Essence of Autumn

“At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters on Cézanne

Country Road Autumn
Autumn is a time of year that for many of us, generates mixed feelings. Some of us view autumn as merely a precursor to the following months of cold and snowy misery. The arrival of autumn brings a gradual shortening of daylight hours, slowly falling temperatures, and a realization that this year’s lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are over. If, like me, you made all kinds of plans back in March for all the wonderful things you were going to do in the spring and summer, then often, the arrival of fall brings on a feeling of regret for the plans you didn’t execute, the tasks you didn’t do, and the goals that you failed to achieve. For the younger set, back to school time replaces the carefree summer days and nights of time to be spent at leisure.

Yet there are joys and pleasures to be found in the autumn months. The changing colors of the leaves paint pictures of breathtaking beauty not found in spring and summer. The cooler days and nights mean less reliance on air conditioning and a savings on our electric bills. The holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving occur in the fall. On Halloween, kids get to dress up in scary costumes and go door to door asking for treats that will up the sugar content of their bodies (hmmm, maybe that’s not such a good thing after all.). Then on Thanksgiving, we all can stuff our bellies with roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and a myriad of other goodies.

And for us gardeners, fall gives us one last chance to plant a garden. It’s still not too late to plant cabbage, leek, salsify, parsnip, garlic, spinach, kale, mustard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, lettuce, and other greens. If your garden didn’t grow so well this summer, then fall is your second chance to do it right.

Colorful Fall Vegetables

So while we can’t completely ignore the bitter part of autumn, perhaps we can soften it somewhat by focusing on the sweetness that also exists.