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MV Gardening Corner September, 2013

 

Gardening Corner
 
September has been a busy month in terms of gardening.  Many of the fruits and vegetables have been ready to be harvested, and that usually means we have to dry them or can them or freeze them or prepare them for cold storage.   We are still harvesting tomatoes (canning), peppers and broccoli  and a few small cabbages (freezing), carrots and winter squash and apples (cold storage, or canning for applesauce and apple butter), eggplant (for eating right away or making Moussaka* and then freezing) and raspberries, which are in abundance right now (freezing or eating fresh on our oatmeal).  My canner/pressure cooker comes up from the basement in July and has a permanent place on my stove until sometime in November, it seems.  Even the green tomatoes will be made into delicious mincemeat* just before we get that first frost.
 
harvest vegetables
 
Some vegetables taste better after that first frost, like the kale and horseradish and sometimes the Swiss chard.  Swiss chard can be eaten as greens in salads now, but they also make a wonderful soup as does kale in the late fall or winter (process them and freeze if you want to make the soup later).  Horseradish is new this year, and you use only the root, so we will be experimenting with that.
 
When that first frost is looming, it is also time to tend the herbs, especially the basil.  We grow lots of that, both the green type and purple basil, and I usually make pesto* with that to later compliment tomato dishes or to eat as is with some more olive oil or cream sauces.   Basil is very susceptible to frost, so when the thermometer gets anywhere near 32 degrees, it starts feeling it, and it is time to harvest it quickly.  It does not have a long shelf live either, so when you do pick it, you need to use it or process it almost immediately.  Chopping it into a pesto and mixing it with olive oil right away keeps a lot of the flavor and even color intact longer.  Other herbs may need to be dried at this point, too, if you want to use them during the winter months.  Bill picked the pineapple sage the other day, since we were digging up that area for something else, and after he tied each large branch with a piece of kitchen string, he hung each branch upside down on our hooks by the fireplace.
 
herbs drying
We have a number of hooks on the fireplace for Christmas stockings (25 at last count with the grandchildren and sons-in-laws and daughter in law, etc.).  Usually the herbs will dry out in about a week or two (without  a fire…in fact, don’t light the fireplace) and then when you take them down, take one branch at a time and hold it over wax paper and pull the leaves off the stem onto the paper.  Wax paper works well, since it slides off easily into a jar afterwards.  Do one branch at a time, sliding the crumbled leaves into a jar, press them down, and close with a tight fitting lid and label.  You can use the herbs all winter.  A few herbs, I bring in for the winter.  For instance, bay leaf will not last over the winter and it is a difficult plant to find, so once I have it, I keep it in a large pot and bring it in with perhaps a little fresh sage or thyme or rosemary.  We have a nice sunny window in the breezeway that keeps them safe and growing all winter.
 
 
pot of herbs
September also signals time to start putting the raised beds to bed for the winter. As each bed is emptied, Bill pulls up the dead vines and either composts them or takes them to the town dump for burning if there are pests involved that we don’t want next spring.  He then pulls back the straw and if the bed is lying dormant for the winter, dresses it with some compost and goat manure and then pulls back the straw and waters it down and lets it rest.  We usually use three beds for just tomatoes each year and we alternate which beds we will use for those as we do all the brascia vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, kale, etc.).  In the fall, however, Bill treats the future tomato beds differently.  Bill plants next year’s garlic in the fall. It sets down roots slowly and if you plant them in the fall, you get a nice head start for the following year.  We also discovered that if you plant garlic next to your tomatoes and basil, you get far less pests.  So, for the three beds that will be home for the tomatoes next year, Bill pulls back the straw, and dresses the sides with goat manure, then uses some compost down the middle, plants the garlic down the middle and then covers everything back up with straw.  Next spring, the tomatoes will go on either side of the garlic and the basil will go between the tomato plants.
 
Getting the orchard ready for winter is also something we usually start in September, though we are not finished with that until the end of October.  We have harvested almost all the fruit now except a few apple trees that are due to ripen in October.  The ducks have been very useful, scouting out all the bugs or little worms that might have fallen with some of the drops.  They are also adding some fresh manure of their own on top the straw and grass that is poking through the straw which will come in handy over the winter.  Come September, we start picking up any drops as we see them, for they just rot and bring on more little critters we don’t need. And believe it or not, we are still getting fresh rhubarb in the orchard, so we can still have an occasional rhubarb pie!  Once those final apples are picked, though, the straw arrives.  In our 80 x 80 orchard, we lay down about 40 bales of straw (and another 10 bales on the raised beds).  It is critical that if you are using this method (Ruth Stout method – see introduction article about organic gardening) that you use straw, not hay.  Straw is the first cut and it has far less weed seeds, so it breaks down right back into the soil and creates a rich nutrient mix for the beds or orchard, and does not turn into a weed factory.
 
new mums
 
Flowers may need some attention during September as well.  The sedum or peonies may need to be divided, or some of the moon flowers transplanted while you can still see where they are.  We plant a few small mums each year for decorative effect, and if they are relatively small, they come back the following year or two as gorgeous mounds of color.   Occasionally we will plant some bulbs, but we do have hundreds of daffodils already coming up in the spring, and all those beautiful spring Easter lilies, hyacinths, tulips, etc. that folks brought us last Easter, were planted right after they began to wither last spring.  Almost all of them come up each year in the spring again.
 
 
 
 
One last word on raking leaves…..in September, we often see lots of folks raking those pesky little leaves.  For good or bad, we watch those leaves fall down and say, “Aren’t they really beautiful this year?” and then DO ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.  We rake leaves in the spring, and only those that are in our way for something else we want to shine.  The rest we let decompose and go back to the earth and enrich the soil.  And all the while, we marvel at how God has created our world with such beautiful cycles and rhythms.  Praise God from whom all blessing flow!
 
single maple.420
 

 * Recipes found in the recipe column.