Your Garden’s Second Act

This time of year is when many vegetable gardens peak, and then begin to wane. The cucumbers have produced their little plant hearts out, and now the plants are beginning to die off. Lettuce is beginning to bolt in hot weather. For most people, this is a sign that harvest time is beginning and soon, it will be time to start cleaning up the dead plant debris and putting the garden to bed for the winter. But not so fast! There are still at least three months of garden-tolerable weather ahead of us, so don’t quit on your garden now. It’s time for your garden’s second act, a.k.a. the fall vegetable garden.

Now is the time to plant a second crop of lettuce. Root crops such as carrots, turnips, and rutabaga, can also be planted at this time – and these can be left in the ground over the winter to harvest for a delicious hot stew. There’s even time to plant a crop of wax beans. And as late as October, you can plant storage onion bulbs and cloves of garlic for verdant crops of both next spring and a bountiful harvest in the summer. So don’t throw in the trowel just yet. There’s still time to grow more crops beyond what you originally planted in the spring.

It Ain’t Over ‘Til You See the White of the Frost

old-windmill-at-sunset

 

By now, many of you are beginning to see the sun setting on the horizon of your gardening season. You’re beginning to think about (or perhaps have already started) harvesting the last of the fruits and vegetables, throwing away (or composting) the spent plants, enriching your soil with humus and compost, turning it all over and mixing it in, washing and putting away your tools, and calling it a season. And you can do that if you so desire. But gardening does not have to end just yet. There are still vegetables you can plant and get a final harvest before the frost sets in and the snow flies.

Remember the cool season crops you planted in the early spring? Well, guess what? They work equally well in the fall. Lettuce, spinach, brassicas (kale, mustard, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc.), and root crops (parsnip, leek, rutabaga, salsify, etc.) can all be grown in the fall. And should a light frost occur, it will have little or no effect, because these plants can take it. Frost actually improves the flavor of kale and parsnips. In addition, some root crops can be left in the ground over the winter months. So if you have a sudden hankering for parsnip leek soup in mid-February, just go out to the garden, dig up some parsnips and leeks, and brew yourself a feast. Note: please do not announce to your household that you are going out in the garden to take a leek.

Remember, gardening does not have to come to a screeching halt come fall. There’s still some life left in the growing season. Why not make the most of it?

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.

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.