Harvesting & Heading For Autumn

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Poppies are magical

Change Time In The Garden

It’s been a wild, weird year, both in and out of the garden. Here in my cool, Maritime PNW home, summer was a long time coming and now it seems like it’s almost gone. For those of us without the luxury of full sun, heat loving crops stalled out early and were slow to recover momentum. Greens and peas did great, yet they lingered so long that no sooner are they truly finished than it’s time to start them up again. Hearing stories from gardening friends all up and down the coast, it feels like we are in a bubble, isolated by weather as well as social distancing. With wildfires and heat waves all around us, here on the Island, we had exactly one hot day in the 90s. It was, however, a memorable event, culminating in an extravagantly gorgeous sunset quickly overshadowed by towering thunderheads that delivered a magnificent mini storm that included hail, a fierce downpour of rain, plenty of lightning and thunder loud enough to shake the windows. Boom! Otherwise, we’ve had the usual cool mornings, with the classic grey marine layer that takes all morning to burn off, followed by sunnier, warmer afternoons and evenings, then nights cool enough to warrant a blanket.

Though that is hardly a recipe for success with tomatoes, peppers, or beans, all are finally producing steadily if not with the overwhelming abundance of warmer years. As quickly as I clear the beds of early crops, I’m refreshing them with compost, since even fairly new edible beds need replenishment before asking the soil to nurture an autumn crop. I’ve finally got the miniature backyard under control (mostly), thanks to layers of heavy burlap coffee bags. Yesterday, I pulled some bags back, forked up any lingering roots, and spread a layer of compost. Several research projects have demonstrated that as little as half an inch of compost will begin to restore depleted soil to health. That renewed soil starts capturing and storing carbon almost immediately, so every compost mulch layer is a gift to the world. Since my inherited soil is truly exhausted, I’m spreading several inches over the bed areas before setting out my autumn starts.

Seeds Of Change

My grandkids are finally allowed to come over again, which nurtures my spirit though we must stay outside and wear masks. With several bins of craft supplies on the covered porch and a wide strip of linoleum on the wooden floor, they happily create toys, games, paintings, and assemblages that often include leaves, twigs, lichens and seed pods. Poppy seedheads are a prime favorite and yesterday they spent a happy hour collecting ripe pods and scattering the tiny seeds where they thought flowers would look pretty next spring. Columbine and Nigella seedheads were also dry enough to rattle (they know that means seed is ripe) so they scattered those around as well, waving the dry stalks like magic wands packed with promise of floral abundance. It feels important to introduce children to the rewards and pleasures of gardening, including the fun of free play among plants. There’s truth in the saying that we protect what we love, and kids who don’t freely experience the natural world are unlikely to grow up caring deeply about the planet in any but abstract ways.

Young or old, people whose outdoor experiences are limited to manicured parks and astroturf playgrounds are missing the vital elements of free play, seeing and learning about native and garden plants, watching birds, bees butterflies and critters going about their lives. As adults, we (or at least I) sometimes get so caught up in the productive aspects of gardening, whether in terms of weeding or harvesting, that we forget to pause to look and listen, to savor the sight of healthy foliage, flowers and fruit, and the sounds of happy bees and investigating birds. Right now, it feels like our country and indeed the world is at a crux point, a time when great change is possible. Though it isn’t given to everyone to be an agent of great change, all of us can actively work at passing along our skills and plant knowledge to younger generations. If you don’t have kids or grandkids of your own, borrow some! Take them outside and help them fall in love with the natural world. Show them flowers and fruit, show them birds and bees, frogs and fish. Then stand back and let them make their own discoveries, and let yourself be awestruck by every miraculous acorn or butterfly or seedpod.

Vinegars And Shrubs

If the tomatoes are ambling, nectarines and peaches, plums and blackberries are all racing from garden to table. Neighbors have gifted us with enough to make lots of jam and desserts, but I’m also making large supplies of fruit vinegars. Delicious in dressings or drizzled over sliced avocados or watermelon, tomatoes or lettuce, homemade fruit vinegars also make excellent shrubs, combinations of vinegars and fizzy water that can be further concocted into mixed drinks. Making them at home, you can avoid the cloying over-sweetness of commercial kinds, and it’s rewarding to combine fruits, or add spices or anything else that strikes your fancy. Around here, the top favorites include a single kind of fruit with the addition of a vanilla bean, cracked peppercorns, lemon peel, or even a cinnamon stick. Here’s the basic recipe and a few favorite variations to play with, but I encourage you to start with cider vinegar, which tastes and carries flavors far better than white vinegar (too harsh) or rice vinegar (too mild).

Basic Fruit Vinegar

2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups chopped fruit
3-4 tablespoons honey or sugar
1/3 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool, covered, then refrigerate for 12-24 hours. Strain and bottle. Makes about 2-1/2 cups.

Nectarine & Vanilla Vinegar

2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups chopped nectarines (about two)
3-4 tablespoons honey or sugar
1/3 cup water
1 vanilla bean, whole, lightly scored lengthwise

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool, covered, then refrigerate for 12-24 hours. Strain and bottle (I cut the vanilla bean in half and put half in each bottle). Makes about 2- 1/2 cups.

Plum & Pepper Vinegar

2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups chopped plums
3-4 tablespoons honey or sugar
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon pink or green peppercorns

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan, bring to a boil reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool, covered, then refrigerate for 12-24 hours. Strain and bottle, including half the peppercorns. Makes about 2-1/2 cups.

This entry was posted in Annual Color, Care & Feeding, Climate Change, composting, fall/winter crops, Gardening With Children, Health & Wellbeing, Planting & Transplanting, Pollinators, Recipes, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Teaching Gardening, Vegan Recipes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Harvesting & Heading For Autumn

  1. Eleanor Wheeler says:

    Grandkids are one of life’s greatest pleasures So glad yours can once again visit.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Yes, it was wonderful, but sadly, now school is starting and they won’t be visiting for a while, until we know what’s going to happen (as if anyone knows).

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