NATURE’S TURN: Tender harvests, hardy plantings – autumn’s in the leaves

Good garden hygiene in the fall is preparation for a healthy start in the spring. Clear dead, dying and weed plants before cold weather discourages the effort.

September 28 – October 11, 2015

Autumn is in the sound of acorns falling and the sight of round, orange pumpkins revealed under shriveled brown leaves, dotting yards of serpentine vines. There are mammoth, blue-green Russian kale leaves to eat and little yellow and brown hemlock needles falling onto my keyboard. Flowers gone to seed bring flitting flocks of seed-eating slate-colored juncos.

Scarlet runner beans in pod. Photo: Judy Isacoff
Scarlet runner beans in pod. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Fertile soil, spring and summer sun, ample rain and the gardener’s hand have delivered storage crops of garlic, potatoes and carrots from underground and beets and onions, transitions between underground and above ground crops. While second plantings of beets, carrots, turnips, table and storage radishes, calendula, nasturtium and other late-producing annuals grow until killing frost, the areas of the vegetable and annual flower garden that have been harvested await preparation for wintertime.

Good garden hygiene in the fall is preparation for a healthy start in the spring. Clear dead, dying and weed plants before cold weather discourages the effort. All debris removed to the compost heap begins the process of killing pest organisms, including insect eggs, larvae and adults, as well as weed seeds. Standing, drying vegetation – however picturesque – should be cut after it has completed its life cycle because it provides cover for rodents that nest in the ground and send out their young to devour underground roots and bulbs into the autumn, winter and spring!

Spread compost over the cleared ground, turn it in, rake smooth and, if time allows, plant a cover crop. Through mid-October, winter rye would be the best choice. Broadcast a thick layer of the grains and apply ½ – 1 inch of soil over the seed and water if rain is not predicted. Winter rye stays green in subzero temperatures when given enough time to germinate and grow a few inches before the ground freezes.

Garlic, best planted in autumn, is usually sown in October. Select the largest heads and cloves from last year’s crop or purchase local seed garlic from a nursery or directly from the grower. Choose a deeply dug location in the garden with a 3-year crop rotation in mind. Prepare ground as described above, then lay out rows 8 – 12 inches apart and space individual cloves at 4 – 6 inch intervals. Drop cloves into holes about 3 inches deep so that they will be covered with about 2 inches of soil. An excellent treatise on growing garlic can be found at https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/gourmet-garlic-planting-zbcz1311.aspx

Green and red sweet peppers. Photo: Judy Isacoff
Green and red sweet peppers. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Sunny days and cool nights have seen the landscape propelled into autumn with much of its summer glory. Eyes are on the thermometer now, expecting the dip below 32 degrees. Tender crops, like tomatoes, can be taken indoors at any time to ripen slowly; others, like green peppers ripening to red, must be snatched before touched by frost. Green beans that are drying on their vines should be picked when thoroughly dried and saved for seed, soup and baked beans.

We’ve thrown ourselves into the many cycles of the growing season and raised flowers, leaves, fruits and roots to nourish body and spirit. We’re joined together in looking out at the swell of green and turning leaves as the next big wave approaches.

Resources:

https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/planting-garlic-zbcz1311.aspx

https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/gourmet-garlic-planting-zbcz1311.aspx