As day and evening temperatures start to fall, we are reminded that the season is changing and that our gardens need our attention. The warm days are fabulous and the cool sunny ones are appreciated for different reasons. Often this drop in temperature greatly decreases the number of pesky insects, making the outdoors more inviting and comfortable for living — all day and evening.
The harvest is a fall event to be celebrated. Whether you are storing, pickling, freezing, preparing or snacking, it is a joy to grow and preserve your own food. With any ‘excess’ you can be more creative with the preparation, presentation and appreciation. For example, zucchini is a versatile vegetable that can be enjoyed by frying, grilling, baking, stuffing and eating raw. The flowers are also edible — usually stuffed, breaded and fried. Young zucchini can be shaved thin, tossed with oil and garlic, and served el dente, as a vegetable pasta—simple, healthy, delicious — a great seasonal idea. A cool fall evening is perfect for dining el fresco to celebrate your harvest with a menu featuring your garden ingredients.
Fall planting is recommended for garlic to produce next year’s crop. There are a number of varieties to choose from, but the Music and Russian Red are delicious, reliable heirloom varieties. Garlic is allium sativum, an easy to grow, reliable and very beneficial member of the onion family. Buy untreated, and/or organic garlic bulbs and plant out each clove a few inches deep in a rich loam bed. With garlic planting bigger is better; the bigger the clove, the bigger next year’s bulb will be. Garlic is also good to interplant in your flower beds as it is a beneficial companion plant. You will be rewarded next June/July with the lovely scapes (flower heads that are harvested before opening to force the plant energy into the garlic bulbs). Later in August, as the leaves brown, dig up the bulbs and let them air dry.
Garlic stores best with low or no humidity, at 18 to 20 degrees. Cool storage, like your crisper, offers too much humidity and is too cool. It will force the bulb out of dormancy and it will begin to produce a shoot.
As you are tidying up in the fall, remember to provide food and allow places for important garden wildlife and insects to winter. It helps to maintain your garden as a healthy, natural environment with diversity. Allow some or all seed heads to remain as winter food for birds and wildlife. They also add interest and texture in a winter garden. Tie together hollow stems for wintering bees and insects and lay them back into your garden or place in a tree crevice.
Many leafy plants will easily grow a decent crop with a replanting in early fall. Lettuces, kales, radishes, Swiss chard, and spinach can all be seeded now for delicious late season enjoyment. They prefer the cooler temperatures for easy germination and rapid growth. Keep them watered for best results.
Update your flower urns with kales, chrysanthemums and other interesting fall ornamentals.
The cold frame is a very simple way to extend your growing season in the early spring and late fall. Many designs and possibilities are available, but essentially it is a miniature unheated greenhouse, a transparent protective box that sits on the ground. One can be made simply with reused hinged storm windows or PVC tubing and plastic. The design can be decorative and/or practical. In the spring it provides a forcing space or cold tolerant growing place. In the fall it extends the cold tolerant plant season. Even if you only grow your own lettuces, the frame provides an easy to use, productive, practical, protected and adaptable space. If it is placed against your home or another wall, this will add to the amount of heat that is generated and maintained. For more information on cold frames, check out the book The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Canadian gardening writer Niki Jabbour.
Get outside and “chill out” this season … It’s still Gin & Tonic season, so indulge! It’s a great time of year.
Rick Weingarden and Allan Watts own Anything Grows SEED Co. (www.anythinggrows.com). They can be found at the Western Fair Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market on Saturdays, and at various gardening events around the region.