Fall has arrived with crisp mornings and heavy dew on the lawn. I expect to go out one morning in October and find hoar frost decorating the garden. It is beautiful, though my feelings about it leave me conflicted. Part of me wants to keep gardening, harvesting the last vegetables, preserving, getting the most out of our garden, and yet, I’m also ready to say goodbye to another season, put my feet up, and enjoy a good book.
Looking around my vegetable garden, the list of tasks can be daunting, if I let it. There are times I just let go of making the garden perfectly winter ready, and this year may be one of them. I recently tore my rotator cuff and had corrective surgery.
One-armed gardening will be a challenge, but not impossible. Leaf mulch is not heavy – it will blanket my garden this year and, just as important, stay in place thanks to the wood chips I pile on top. The worms have chewed this spring’s leaf mulch and those tiny leaf pieces have been incorporated into the soil. The leaves on the soil surface have been replaced by beautiful pellets of worm castings. Thank you, worms! Earthworms are not indigenous to North America but they are here to stay, so you might as well let them work for you.
The brassicas, such as broccoli, cabbage, and mustard, can put up with a bit of cold. After a frost, you want to pick Brussels sprouts and dig up parsnips. I haven’t researched the science, but frost makes them sweeter. Every autumn I leave a few Harris parsnips in the garden, as these plants will set seed the following year. Birds, mice, and voles will help me spread the seeds in the garden. Many sprouts will emerge and I will weed out those I don’t want. Beware: Contact with parsnip may cause skin irritation, blistering rashes, and skin discoloration. I always wear gloves and long sleeves when dealing with this plant.
Beets will have been pulled before the voles eat too many of them. There have been years when I feel like the cartoon character Elmer Fudd – but instead of a wascally wabbit, it is pesky voles I’m dealing with, leaving me frustrated on harvest day when lifting beets only to find they have been eaten below the soil surface. That was my experience two years ago. Last year I planted beets inside a ring of hardware cloth. This tactic was mostly successful – it didn’t stop the slugs, but I didn’t have any hollowed out beets. Thank you to Mary Cornog for this idea!
Looking around the garden got me to thinking about a relative of beets. Swiss chard is one of those vegetables that cause many to scratch their head and wonder what to do with it. It puts up with some frost and it’s good as a baby green in salads. I like to sauté it with garlic, throw in some scrambled egg and a little soy sauce. Last year I was pulling a large Swiss chard with an impressive stalk and a fat root that must have reached down to the center of the earth, and I got curious about it. With some plants, we eat either the roots or stems. Was Swiss chard like that? After some brief research, much to my delight I discovered the root is edible and is wonderful in a roasted root medley!
October and November is time to plant garlic. I save my largest bulbs for planting. As I inspect the cloves I look for insect damage or disease, anything that doesn’t make the grade gets eaten. Those that pass the test are planted in soil amended with aged manure and an organic amendment that contains 5% nitrogen/3% phosphate/4% potash. Garlic likes lots of nutrition and apparently lots of water before harvest, as evidenced by this July’s rain and the subsequent record harvest. After planting your garlic, tuck it in for the winter with a “blanket” of 4-6” of mulch. This will let the garlic establish roots early and continue to grow until the ground freezes.
As I clean up in the garden, I’ll pick a spot for my garden cuttings, pile them up, and cover it with something to keep the pile from blowing away. The voles and field mice will chew and the slugs will decompose the cuttings and in 2 or3 years I’ll have new compost ready to be added to the garden.
Garden “pests” greatly outnumber me, so I might as well embrace them, work with their characteristics, and channel my energy to working with nature.