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!
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.
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.
‘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.
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).