According to the Gregorian calendar, the first day of Fall was September 1st. September 22nd was the Autumnal Equinox. I was sweating in summer clothes on both those days, craving a/c. But now, Fall is finally showing its fringes in my neck of the woods. And I love it! Fall has always been my favorite season. Cool enough to sleep with the windows open, but still enough sunshine to warm your skin. All the colors in the trees and in the garden. Even the air seems to take on a warmer, golden glow. Oooh! And flannels and sweatpants and boots, oh my! It was actually cool enough last night to don my big-comfies (sweatpants and sweatshirt) to lounge around after work. I do love me some sweatpants time!
With any season of change, or change in season, there is work to be done in the garden. This season is shaping up to be an extra daunting one.
This Fall marks the end of our 4th year of having a food garden. My sweetheart grew up on a homestead and had a garden much bigger than our little experiment to contend with, but I have only dabbled (and mostly failed) here an there in less recent years with growing my own food. Our 4 years have taught us (mostly me) many lessons, have brought us much delight and also some disappointment, and have, most importantly, kept us in a reasonable amount of fresh, delicious, home-grown produce.
Every spring I struggle against my patience to wait for the last frost to get my seeds and seedlings out. In the weeks (ok months) preceding, I gather my seeds, I read up on companion planting, sowing dates, soil temperatures, crop rotation, different gardening methods, natural pest control, water and light requirements…and create garden plan after garden plan to try to fit everything in just the right spot to maximize my harvest because, darn it! we are going to have canned tomatoes and dried beans and frozen peas and everything else from our garden all winter long while the ground is covered with snow and ice!
Best laid plans and all.
So this is what my garden generally looks like in the beginning:
See the nicely maintained, weed-free beds? See everything growing in it’s place? See my pretty onion rows and my cages and stakes?
This was last year’s garden. We had a pretty good running harvest that allowed for at least half the ingredients of every meal to come from home, and we had enough onions, peppers, and eggplant to put up for winter. The real surprises came from the volunteer pop-ups though.
In that back bed on the right, three red potato plants popped up from ones that were apparently left from the harvest the year before that produced almost as much as one of our potato towers.
We used to have boxwoods growing on the other side of the house, and at some point I either lost a tomato, or something pooped a seed under one of them which grew into a random tomato plant up through the center of the boxwood and then, with the natural support, sprawled and stretched to cover most of the bush. Unfortunately, it sprouted up and began producing waaaay late in the season, so I mostly only got green pear tomatoes…but boy did I get some!
That was our oh-crap-temps-are-gonna-drop-low-tonight-I-don’t-want-to-lose-it-all harvest. The pear tomato plant in the bush was the only one that had survived, so all the pears you see in those pictures were from that one plant.
So while I didn’t get my cans upon cans of tomato and tomato products I was hoping for, I did get 5 or 6 pints of green tomato salsa, and a quart and a pint of lacto-fermented green tomatoes put up. Yummy!
There were also a couple volunteers from missed crops that year which had fallen and/or gone to seed: beans, cucumbers, herbs. And you know what? They were healthier and stronger than any of the ones I put in myself!
So this spring, I was much less organized and rigid with my planting. I utilized a lot more outside-the-box, in-the-ground space, and I let things grow how and where they wanted without obsessing too much about pruning and supporting and spacing. Ok, nature, do your thing!
This is my garden this morning:
See that giant mass of green to the right, outside the fence and growing along the back fence and overtaking the rabbit cage? That was a spot for squash and watermelon. It’s now two mini-pumpkin plants gone wild! Apparently that’s where my daughter disposed of her minis last fall…which I was ok with when they first popped up. But who knew they would take over soooo much! You can’t see it, but there are also two sad looking tomato plants in there…that I’m not entirely sure how they got there.
See the tall brown mass of almost spent cosmos on the far side of the garden? That was my onion patch. And then the cosmos started sprouting, which I thought, cool, that will be pretty and they’ll help keep the soil moist in the heat of summer. And then they grew to 7 feet tall. And spread. And choked out all other life.
Hope springs eternal….and so does passion flower!
See the beautiful vine growing to the left of the gate, and in between the beds, and on the left fence….that’s passion fruit. We planted it last year along the fence to the left. One plant. It is now covering the house on that side and is popping up in places up to 10 feet away from the original plant we thought died off last winter. Passion fruit is delicious. Passion flowers are beautiful. Passion flower tincture and tea is very wonderfully useful. But no one needs that much for personal use, and not at the expense of other crops.
It’s not all out of control volunteers that have put my garden out of sorts though. Early July was especially hot and dry here, which corresponded with our annual week vacation. And the rest of the summer has been very, very wet and very hot. I haven’t had to water much, but I have been fighting weeds and burst tomatoes and pests everywhere, while not really wanting to do much in the garden for the crazy humid heat, and the mosquitos which are thriving in the damp hotness that surrounds it.
And the harvest hasn’t been great.
This isn’t the garden with the cucamelons. So from this garden, I’ve had a steady stream of tomatoes, but thanks to caterpillars, I’ve had to discard at least half of the harvest to rotting. The dry beans are growing and producing, but it’s too wet for most of them to dry on the plant as normal before they either mold or sprout. The watermelon, summer squash, and winter squash all rotted and died, and the cantaloupe decided to sit squarely at 3 inches tall…until about 2 weeks ago when it took off and started producing tons of baby cantaloupes…just in time for winter. The peppers are very leafy, but not much in the way of fruit. I think they’re not getting much sun due to the giant basil that is going gangbusters this year. This is my last harvest from last week (you may be able to see in the pictures above that there is still plenty left in the bed):
We did get some radishes late spring and early summer, and I got a decent amount of carrots and beets. But that’s it. “Small potatoes” compared to prior years.
But we’re learning.
- Trying to control all the
chaosnatural tendencies of heirloom/non-GMO varieties: nope.
- Letting nature completely do its own thing: nope.
So, this weekend, we will try to wrangle back the garden area and get a good idea of what exactly is left in there, and what fall crops I can still manage.
When growing is all done this winter, we’re considering relocating the garden altogether (somewhere away from the passion fruit vine-that-won’t-die) and letting the current site heal a bit.
And next spring, we’ll make a plan and try again and hope for a better harvest next time.