We've had a couple of light frosts, the last one damaging. That was good enough for me, so I harvested the squash and pumpkin. They are curing on the *new* deck. This isn't all of them - I've eaten a squash (in soup) and given away a squash and a pumpkin. I have to say I am quite pleased with the harvest, especially considering I don't usually have much success with these. My only complaint was the way the vines took over the garden, making other garden activities difficult. At least, that is my excuse.
After hearing an interview with Dan Barber on the Splendid Table, I picked up his book, The Third Plate, at the library. Although written from a chef's perspective, this book is opening my eyes to a whole new way of seeing my yard and garden. I consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about organic gardening in the backyard, but now I realize I am "old school".
I am only partway through the book, but already I am newly excited about things like weeds. Yes, weeds. Not to eat, not to eradicate, not to hate, but to use as a means of truly SEEING the soil in my garden. As an example, one of my worst enemies is Canada thistle. No matter how hard I try to beat it into submission, it keeps coming back, stronger and stronger every year. Why? Because the heavy clay beneath my raised beds is the epitome of compaction. To get rid of thistle, I need to do something about the compaction, specifically plant cover crops like spelt and red clover; both aerate the soil and suppress weeds while the latter also fixes nitrogen. Winter rye suppresses weeds as well.
Healthy soil produces healthy plants which are naturally less appealing to pests and diseases. I saw that this year, when the zucchini just went on and on (and ON). In previous years, the plants would succumb to squash beetles and/or mildew about mid-season. Ditto pumpkin and butternut, neither of which I have successfully grown before. All that horse manure paid off. Unfortunately, it is also the reason behind the proliferation of certain other weeds.
My gardening mantra has been "Feed the soil and the soil will feed the plants" but there is more to healthy soil than what I have been doing. Different parts of my yard have different weed problems. I'm anxious to get a good weed reference and identify and correct those problems. Fun stuff!
A mild frost Saturday night did nothing discernible to the garden except for some of the sweet potatoes. I decided to empty two bags of peat onto the blueberry bed and top that with the contents of some of the sweet potato grow bags, thereby starting the fall harvest. Those bags of dirt were heavy! To allow the use of a small garden cart, I had to remove a couple of butternut squash and a sugar pumpkin from their still green vines as they were in the way. I managed to muscle three bags over to the blueberry beds before I decided that was enough for one day.
Last year's sweet potato harvest was a total bust. This year's is not quite so bad, but it is not going to be good, either, judging by the contents of those three bags. For one thing, a woodchuck decimated the plants early on, before we built a fortress around the garden. Then my placement of the grow bags and pots turned out to be too shady once the zinnias and sunflowers reached their full height. The never-really-hot temps did not help, either; I don't think we had a single day of 90+ weather.
Now I'm grumpy about the lack of a hard frost. This is the first year I have had such success with squash and pumpkin, and I want them to hold into the winter, which means leaving them on the vine as long as possible. It's difficult to do much of any other clean up in the garden until those vines are done, as they reach into almost every corner and bed.
The weather is usually different from year to year, but the past few years it seems more different in more ways than ever before. Can you say "climate change"?
The weather has been so mild lately - today is is in the upper 70's - that, when I see a tree with yellowing leaves, I think, "What is wrong?!?" Then I remember fall is coming. No hard frost in the forecast but cooler temps are on their way.
I'm starting to clear out the vegetable garden, taking the zucchini and cucumber first. There were a couple of giant examples of each hiding under all that rampant growth, all of which went on the compost pile. I did harvest a few baby zukes. The root bed offered up some radishes and turnips, and the pole beans are providing a meal every few days. The roma tomatoes are basically done, and I am done with the rest, so I will clear out those beds next; the fall planting of garlic goes in there next month.
With my SO's help, I hauled in some construction blocks (on sale at Menard's for 95 cents each) to use in the orchard to create raised beds for the fruit trees. Two beds have been outlined so far; I'll fill them with the contents of the sweet potato bags post harvest, plus some of my homemade compost. Fruit trees don't need a lot of nitrogen, so we'll skip the manure.
Usually I save plant and seed selection for the winter months, but I keep studying and sampling fruit tree varieties, to get a feel for what I might like. Have you ever had Asian pears? The flavor is nothing to get excited about, very mild, but the texture is crunchy, like an apple. And they keep, a welcome trait for this canner-weary gardener.
Today my SO helped me move the dirt from the patio beds to the newly located blueberry beds. It was a lot of dirt. Without his help, it would have taken me days, assuming I did no lose heart and give up. He truly helps my gardening dreams come true.
Re the rest of the garden, I can't wait for a hard frost. I am so sick of zucchini and tomatoes, and am eager to harvest the pumpkins, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes. The fall plantings show mixed results: some beans, some kale, something else as yet to be identified (turnips?), the rest no-shows.
Re the incipient mini-orchard, I have been taste testing apples. Today I went to a farmers market and picked up an apple sampler: Jonagold, Swiss Gourmet, Cortland, and Sweet 16. The vendor also turned me on to a new resource, Orange Pippin. I see an orchard tour in my future.
I'm not much for fall clean up. Those late bloomers provide nectar and seeds for wildlife, then winter interest for the most part, especially when capped with snow, and finally something to do in March when I want to be out in the yard but it is too early to do much of anything. The only exception I make is the vegetable garden, as a good clean up makes for a better garden next year.
Toward that end, I spent an hour or so thinning the raspberry bed yesterday. While very prolific this past summer, the plants produced berries that were a bit small for my tastes. I'm new to raspberry growing, so last year simply removed the old canes. This year I also thinned the new ones, with the goal of keeping one cane for every six inches or so. This was accomplished by removing the more spindly ones. Theoretically, my efforts should result in larger berries next year. I also cut out the trumpet vine that threatens the patch (if you ever plant trumpet vine, put it out in the yard where you can control its runners with a mower), fed the bed with composted horse manure, mulched, and rearranged the fencing that holds the canes upright and keeps the bunnies out. Overall, good work and a good workout.