It’s a little difficult to fathom why the thought of planting my fall garden this week causes my spirit to spiral into paroxysms of delight. After all, my garden now is so full of lovely things to eat that I can’t keep up with it. Or with the lovely things, themselves: heirloom tomatoes, roma beans, basil, onions, peppers, and the like, to name just a few. The melons, happily, are finally setting on: Orangeglo watermelon (the best watermelon I’ve found), Moon and Stars, of course, and Boule d’Or melon. There are still a few weeds to pull, too, for when we have a slow day (hahahaa “slow day”).
Oh my. The weeds. The other day, little Mack came out to find me in the garden, pulling up foxtail and lambs’ quarters and grasses by the armload, and he regarded me sadly. “Mom,” he said in his too-wise-for-his-years manner. “There is absolutely no way you’ll pull all these weeds. Best to ask Dad to bring the rototiller out and just ’till the whole thing under.” Tsk, tsk.
I looked at him through the rivulets of sweat that were streaming down my burned face, brushing a nasty harlequin bug off my scraped leg, and thought “The lad might have a point there.”
My dear friend Anne is enjoying a weed-free summer, I’m sure, with her gorgeous wood-chip-mulched garden spot. Probably she has a hammock and a little table set up, in her garden, so that when she goes out–from habit--to weed the garden and finds out that actually there are no weeds, she can plop down, placing her refreshing icy drink on the handy little table, and just read the good book that she always has at hand. Since she has so much time now. (I’m pestering her for news from the second year of her Back to Eden garden, so you really ought to stay posted for that.)
But not me. No hammock or little glass-topped table or nuthin’. Nor a refreshing bevvie. Just weeds, weeds, just more . . . detestable . . . weeds. But! I do not indulge in self-pity, Gentle Reader. No. And actually, it does feel quite good to have so much fresh mulch readily available (the freshly-pulled weeds). I just heap them everywhere. Ironically, they keep more weeds from coming up, because I have so many of them to heap about. “Smothering mulch” perhaps could be a new garden term, for those of us with August gardens that we are loathe to just “’till the whole thing under.” I have also been pushing wheelbarrow loads of them to the chicken yard, and it does a body good (wouldn’t you agree?) to do something so healthy for one’s chickens as putting mountains of weeds (some of them already going to seed!) into their yard. They pick and eat and scratch and grin. So there’s that.
Here’s a picture of our cat Mary, hunting in the blueberry patch, to break up all this text:
Today, not tomorrow, not on the weekend, but today I’ve got to can another batch of tomatoes, since the ones that the kids and I have been picking and that I’ve been arranging on the tables out on the back porch are starting to smell a bit . . . suspicious. Not all of them, mind, but just a few are starting to have the soft spots which tomorrow will be full-out rot. That’s the one downside of growing heirloom tomatoes that I’ve discovered, and (in my opinion) it’s the only downside: they just don’t last long, once you pick them. But I don’t care. The upsides are so numerous and delicious and delightful (honestly) that I can put up with the one little piddly thing.
But it also means that they won’t wait to be used, once they’ve taken the notion to turn to the dark side.
And look. Aren’t they purty?
As I write, I’ve canned two batches of tomatoes so far (that’s 20 quarts) with Lucille’s old-fashioned method. Amalia is as good-natured as she can be about standing in the sticky, warm kitchen with me, scalding and peeling and chunking tomatoes. My older kids: Matthew, Andrew, Bethie, and Timothy–never complained about all the preserving work this time of year, either. I’m not sure (“I’m not quitesure” is how my granddaughter Anya would say it) why, except that probably it’s a relief after all the time that we’ve spent pulling weeds lately, to just stand in one place in the kitchen and be occupied with such an easy task as peeling scalded tomatoes. And of course she can set up Pandora on the laptop and sing away to her favorite music as we work together. Amalia prefers show tunes.
“SOME ENCHANTED EVENING . . . . YOU WILL SEE A STRANGER! YOU MAY SEE A STRANGER–ACROSS A CROWDED ROOM!”
So you can just imagine what our kitchen is like this time of year. Sticky. Hot. Juicy. Crowded. Steamy. Tomatoey. Full of loud, exuberant singing.
“IF I WERE A RICH MAN . . . . DEEDLE DEEDLE DEEDLE DEEDLE DEEDLE DEEDLE DEEDLE DUM!”
With a bit of help, it only takes me a couple of hours to put up a batch, and each quart is a promise of the highest-quality tomatoes this winter for soups and stews and sauces. I know where these lovely ‘maters were grown, and just how they were grown and processed. I ran out of my canned tomatoes this year in March, and my salsa at Christmastime, and I’m still smarting from the blows my children inflicted on me when they discovered that we’d have to do without for so many months 😉. I hate to buy canned tomatoes. Even the “good ones” taste too much like the can, in my opinion.
“I DREAMED A DREAM IN TIMES GONE BY . . . WHEN HOPE WAS HIGH AND LIFE WORTH LIVING!”
Also it pains my wallet to fork out a dollar or more for just one little ole’ can of such sub prime stuff. I’ve never found any canned tomatoes that are as good as the ones I can myself. And salsa? Well, I’ll share my recipe with you as soon as I make my first batch. Later this week, probably. It’s so much more delicious than the stuff you can buy at the store. We don’t buy salsa, either, except for those odd and confusing specialty varieties that Timothy likes to try: ghost-pepper salsa. Pineapple mango salsa. Pumpkin Elderberry Salsa. That sort of thing. Last year I made habanero salsa, which met even Timothy’s approval, which was surprising because he likes things so hot. But that recipe was blazing hot, and he said he liked the taste, too.
“IT’S A GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING! THE MOON IS FLYING HIGH, AND SOMEWHERE A BIRD WHO IS BOUND TO BE HEARD IS THROWING HIS HEART AT THE SKY!”
But back to the fall garden. There are many great reasons to consider planting a fall garden, so if you’re on the fence on the matter, these are especially for you. Many folks don’t realize that there’s a full second gardening season which starts in our part of the country just . . . about . . . now. Putting in a fall garden can be a risky business, because you never really know when the first frost and freeze will be, though it’s usually around October 10th in our area, Zone 5. Some years it’s much, much later.
I’ll never forget the year that my mom took a wild hair and put in lots and lots of acorn and butternut squash in late summer. It was really late in the summer to be planting winter squash. People would walk by and shake their heads and cluck their well-meaning tongues. “That Elna. What on earth is she thinking, putting in winter squash so late in the year–?” But we had a very late first frost date that year, and she was laughing all the way–you might say–to the bank. The Squash Bank. She harvested bushels and bushels of winter squash, which she shared with all of us, and we had the most beautiful squashes to eat all winter long. I remember helping her tote them up to the house. It was a brilliant move, almost as if she knew that there would be a late freeze that year. Probably she did. She’s always been a bit clairvoyant.
Oh, do I have a story to tell you about that, Gentle Reader. I’m laughing as I think about it. Please remind me. “Tell me the story about your mom’s supernatural abilities, Amy, please.” Somebody just mention that in the comments someday soon. 🙂
Well, it might be a bit late to plant squash, but there are lots of other wonderful things that you can plant right now that will keep you eating out of your garden much longer than you might expect.
Last year, we put in leeks and carrots and beets and turnips and lettuce and spinach in August, and we had great, lovely edibles in our garden until the new year. We didn’t have to start buying groceries from the store until after Christmas. I get so spoiled at being able to cook and eat most of our meals out of the garden during the summer, that it’s a difficult transition to start having to buy food again. Except for, of course, flour and sugar and butter (no cow yet) and a few other things we can’t produce (coconut milk, bananas, bacon).
So have I got you thinking about what you could plant right now? Hooray! You won’t regret it. The weeds aren’t quite as quick-growing in the cooler days of fall, and many of the insect pests have moved on. And you know that you’re going to be looking for reasons to be outside, in the sparkling cool and crisp fall days to come. Besides splitting wood, of course. Of course there is a plethora of information and planting schedules and so forth online for your area, but I’ll share with you what we are planning on putting in for a fall garden, in case you need ideas.
One more thing: think of a layer of protection over some of your fall garden, if you want to prolong the harvest even further. Think straw bales and old windows, or row covers, or cold frames. Many years there is one hard freeze, followed by several weeks of mild, impossibly delightful weather to follow. So if you can protect your crops from that one freeze, you can get much more from your fall garden.
Okay. Enough rambling, already.
Vegetables well suited for the fall garden include:
- Semi-hardy vegetables (can stand light frost, 30-32° F) such as: beets, Chinese cabbage, collards, lettuce, radishes, winter radishes (Amalia’s favorite thing to grow in the fall), spinach, Swiss chard, and green onions, and whatnot.
- Hardy vegetables (can stand several frosts but are killed when temperatures drop near 20° F): arugula, mache, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrot, turnip, rutabaga and kale, and the like.
If you’ve had the foresight to grow new transplants of cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage, and the like, you can put those little plants in now, although you’ll have to protect them, of course, from the notorious white butterfly, the cabbage moth. I’d recommend throwing a light row cover over them, until those rascally cabbage moths get thrown off their groove by the cooler weather. Which–hopefully–will be soon!
To decide when to plant your fall crops, get out your calendar and start counting backward from your normal first frost date, which is October 10th to 15th here at our place.
- Add together the days to harvest, which is usually printed on the seed packet and the number of days you’ll need to harvest a crop.
- If your plants are sensitive to cold, add in 10-14 days to protect them from early frost.
- Add in 10-14 days for the “fall factor”, which accounts for slowing plant growth due to shorter day length.
That, by the way, is the technical information I got off of the UNL website.
I’m rarely this methodical. I’ve been tearing out spent glads and sweet peas and snapdragons and cosmos from my hoop house, and as soon as I’m finished, I’ll put in two large beds of fall goodies: mustard greens, baby kale, winter radishes (so Amalia will stop hitting me with a stick), and spinach and lettuces. So I’ll have a layer of protection (the hoop house) over these crops. Out in the garden proper (no protection), Amalia and I are pulling weeds like wildwomen, and clearing out spent beds of spring-planted kohlrabi, beets, cabbages, and summer squash. In those spaces, I’ll plant the hardier vegetables: carrots, turnips, radishes (radishes take only 3 to 4 weeks to come to maturity, so I’ll get at least two more plantings of them in before I have to worry about frost) and so forth.
That’s my plan. What’s yours? Here’s a tip for you: first, go over your seeds left over from the spring. Get your calendar out. Study the days-to-harvest numbers on the back, and figure how many days you have left, if you put your fall garden in within the next few days. Then think about what you and your family would like to eat (no sense in growing stuff that you’re just going to throw to the chickens, anyway) and what you’ve not gotten enough of yet this summer. Then get in there and plant!
Here’s a special treat for you: I’ve put together a sweet giveaway of seeds from my own collection–some from my own garden and my seed-saving, and some from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds–and it includes seeds that do really well in the fall, including radishes, kale (baby kale is great to have in the fall), carrots, and more.
To ENTER: Here’s all you need to do: Share this post (on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever) and then leave a comment below, telling me how you shared this post, and what you are planning for your fall garden. Thanks for checking in, and for entering! I’m only running this giveaway for one week, so enter today!
This Giveaway will end on Tuesday evening, September 2nd, at midnight.
Here are some great options for fall gardening, from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds:
For information about fall gardening, you can check out the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds website.
Just for a teaser, look at what’s written about one variety that Baker Creek carries, Japanese Giant Red Mustard. I‘m putting some of this into my garden this week. It sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? I’ve never grown this variety of mustard before, but reading the comments about it really convinced me. So excited . . . !
I’m linking up with The Prairie Homestead Barn Hop: c’mon over and learn something new! Also I’m sharing with the Home Matters Linking Party. It’s fun!
- Blueberry Focaccia with Lemon Sparkle Sugar
- Hobbit Elation Anticipation