How to Finish the Fall Garden

After the warm months we gardeners are either squeezing as much remaining produce as possible from our plants before the threat of frost, or we’re incredibly grateful for an excuse to stop harvesting… finally!

Photo Caption: We turned this giant pile of basil into pesto and the baskets of peppers lining the backseat into pickles and hot sauces.

Last weekend we decided the weather prediction was chilly enough to go ahead and strip the garden bare. We ended up with a backseat and trunk fully stuffed with goodies.

Photo Caption: Everything turned into a jungle by November, but I call it a huge success when it's still producing and the weeds are nearly nonexistent.

Picking every single ripe and unripe fruit and herb in a single day is an arduous task. As I’d just had surgery days before, the credit goes to my boyfriend. I spent most of the day sitting in a sling chair plucking the peppers that were in arm’s reach.

Photo Caption: Still going! We planted our 'Tromboncino' squash in April (eat young like zucchini or let ripen into a hard butternut). Even though they took a mildew hit in midsummer, they managed to continue producing until frost. The mildew seems to back off when the cooler weather comes in -- the leaf spots in this picture are the natural pattern of the plant, not disease.

‘Tromboncino’ squash finished another year as one of my favorite vegetable varieties. It doesn’t get hit by squash vine borer moth, bears squash like… well… a squash, rambles like a pumpkin (yet can still be trellised), and even when it appears nearly dead from powdery & downy mildew it bounces back to produce more squash in the fall. The trick is to make sure your plants are always able to produce new growth. It helps if some of the vines hit the ground and root themselves along their stems. You can facilitate this by covering low-hanging bits with mulch or leaves.

Photo Caption: We love hot sauces and made a wide variety of them this year.

Mountains of food sure are pretty to look at but then it’s a countdown until there is a pile of rotting produce in the kitchen. We start with the most perishable items first (in this case it was the fresh basil — we turned it into pesto, froze small servings in muffin tins, and transferred those to freezer containers). Our freezer is usually stuffed full of summer bounty by the time fall hits so our primary methods at the end of the season are canning and drying.

When canning, we try to do pickles and other items that call for pretty whole, sliced, and chopped veggies first. We now have shelves of jewel-like, multicolored pickled pepper rings. (However, don’t forget to eat a little fresh produce to tide you over until spring. The largest ones made great stuffed peppers for last night’s dinner!)

If the food doesn’t need to be recognizable (like blended hot sauces) we have been known to toss whole veggies (especially hot peppers) in the freezer until we have time to make up the recipes and can them. We don’t even blanch them and it works out great!

Drying is one of our favorite methods, although our dehydrator suffered from a power surge a couple months ago and the plastic trays actually melted! We’re down to oven-drying right now. At some point I want to get around to building this solar dehydrator — the materials are almost free. Because we live in a humid area, we always store our dried goods in airtight containers with dessicate packets.

One of the things I save this time of year are seeds. If they aren’t ripe before frost I clip the stems below the maturing flowers and either place them in a vase of water (if they seem to need more time to develop) or I hang them upside down to dry. Later I transfer them to paper coin envelopes which I label with the variety and year collected.

I usually leave the stripped plants in the garden until the frost really does kill them. Some years we have weird weather and the garden ends up flowering and producing again — I’ve actually harvested tomatoes in December before. But most of the time I can count on everything getting that scalded-by-boiling-water look before fall fades into winter. Then it’s time to tear out all the plants and plan for spring (or for winter polytunnels).

Eliza Lord

I'm a Greenville, SC native (the Appalachian foothills) who wears the hats of Greenville Master Gardener & Upstate Master Naturalist. I love to write about food and sustainability.

4 thoughts on “How to Finish the Fall Garden”

  1. Curbstone Valley Farm - November 10, 2010 1:54 pm

    What a fabulous bounty! How is the flavor of the Tromboncino squash?
    .-= Curbstone Valley Farm´s last blog ..Cotoneaster franchetii =-.

  2. Sustainahillbilly
    Twitter: appalachianfeet
    - November 10, 2010 4:29 pm

    When green and young, it’s about 98% typical zucchini flavor and 2% pumpkin/butternut flavor. I think it is delicious! As a mature winter squash it tastes exactly like a butternut (because it is).
    .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Finish the Fall Garden =-.

  3. Julie - November 16, 2010 6:40 am

    I’m so glad to find your blog–what a fabulous source of information! I can absolutely relate to the preserving conundrum…I just cleaned out the large veggie garden, had a huge pile of tomatoes and peppers, and sadly composted several of them last night because I didn’t use them quickly. Boo. I will be kicking myself this winter! Look forward to reading more of your site!
    .-= Julie´s last blog ..The one that got away =-.

  4. bharat maruti shelke - January 3, 2015 12:24 pm

    Can i use milk after use of sulphur to control powdery mildew in table grapes & how?

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