FALL? Aw come on Karim…already? Yep! Say it and let the words roll off your lips. F-a-l-l. For those of you who are already “in the groove” and making ready for fall season gardening, this is just a small reminder or acknowledgement that some of you are very much aware of. For the rest of us, take heed if you want to grow food all winter.
It has long since been a goal of mine to be in sync with nature as I learned to grow my own food. Seasoned farmers and gardeners already know and live this way of life each year. They must, because their supply of fresh food, for their family and live stock, depends upon it. Once you get the rhythm, you will never miss a beat. Many novice gardeners focus on spring planting alone. But more and more “do for self” and sustainability advocates are realizing that in order to achieve real “food security”, we must learn to grow our own food…all year round. Transitioning from spring to summer to fall and to winter is a cycle of nature we must try and understand. Depending on where you are living, the seasons come and go on different schedules. Check your local almanac for your growing zones and weather patterns.
Let’s talk a bit about the signs. Here in the Carolinas, first you might see a few yellow leaves trickling down from the local trees. Maybe you will see some tree pods or seeds popping up in your yard or garden. Then there is the tell tale yellowing of many hard winter squash vines. Determinant tomatoes are finished for the season. We are now plucking the fruit from in-determinant varieties and as the plant gets older the tomatoes get smaller and smaller. Our baskets of ripening tomatoes we had all around the house have now been processed. With skins removed they were frozen in one gallon freezer bags. The wife has been going full blast dehydrating everything from peaches, apples, pineapples, bananas, mint, basil, kale chips, tomatoes, fruit leathers, and more. Echinacea, basil, dill, and many other herbs are going to seed, which we will collect. If you were attentive, you have been cutting off some of the seed flowers to boost their growing time. We have already cut, dried and stored up mint leaves, chamomile, red clover, and thyme, several varieties of basil, stevia leaves and coriander seed. Garlic from last winters planting have been pulled up and are hanging up in the kitchen. Several winter hard squash are in baskets stored in cool dry places. The peaches are put up but we also collect a jar or two of peach leaves to dry for herbal tea. We have begun to harvest sunflowers for their seeds, apple trees and fig trees are almost ready now. Our huge aloe and enormous lemon grass plants growing outdoors along with young lemon trees, moringa trees, avocado trees and many house plants must come in soon for the winter. Collecting proper pots and soil for indoors is part of getting ready during the fall. There is much more we have done and much more to do, still.
Now is the time to make your beds ready for fall garden planting. Weeding unwanted growth and amending the soil with additional compost is a must. If you have been collecting compost on your kitchen counter and mixing it outside with grass clippings, your compost pile should be ready for wintering. Our garden has been a research center a grocery store and a pharmacy. We have lots of seeds saved from last years crops and we always purchase new seed or trade seeds with other growers. We continue to experiment with hundreds of varieties. Flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruit and cover crops…we continue to add to our collection and growing experience. As we make ready for the fall, there are lots of things still growing in the summer garden that will be replaced between now and winter with new seedlings and bulbs. Some beds will be laid to rest for a few months, while others will be companioned with slow growing items that will not disturb the outgoing items. Sweet and hot peppers seem to take a while to ripen. Although there are plenty on our bushes now, they are still green. We like ours to become red before harvesting. The sweet reds can be sliced and frozen for use all winter. The hot peppers, (especially our favorite, ghost peppers), we make into a hot sauce and bottle a few cases for winter sales, gifts and personal use.
We planted two varieties of sweet potatoes, both beds of which are presently covered with luscious green leaves right now. This time of year, we eat plenty of sweet potato leaves. We put them in raw salads, we cook them with vegetable stews and soups and we juice them in smoothie green drinks. To prepare, strip the leaves from the branches. Wash and drain the leaves. The thin stems that attach the leaves to the branch are tender enough to eat, so there is no need to remove only the leaves. Our sweet potato leaves and the stems attached to them are quite tasty, remarkably tender and have a delicate sweet, nicely balanced flavor...not even a hint of bitterness and none of the that strange astringency that greens like spinach and chard possess. We will not dig up and cure the sweet potato tubers for another two months…it will be just in time for the holiday season.
As we fill several seedling trays with seeds to sprout for fall/winter planting, we try to remember what grew well for us in years past. Curley Kale and Dinosaur Kale are at the top of the list. Collards, red mustards, spinach and lettuce will also be ready for the cooler temperatures of the fall. Beets, celery, parsley, garlic, carrots and cilantro will all be on the fall/winter crop plantings. Many of the perennials that will grow all winter, such as, thyme, oregano, sage, chives, and horse radish, we will amend with more compost and give a thorough weeding. Lavender, eucalyptus and rosemary will keep our respiratory system clean. Strawberries, asparagus, blueberries and apricot trees will be mulched heavy. God willing, they will return next spring. There is plenty to do when trying to be in sync with nature’s cycle. You can never do it all, but it’s nice to catch the wave of each coming season and to receive the new energy in the air. The earth renews its self and we can renew ourselves. This is an important factor in the art of sustainability.
Here’s a recap:
Put up as much of the food you grew this summer for the winter, (cellar crops, dried, canned, frozen).
Collect summer crop seeds and dry them for next year.
Lay out your plan for a fall/winter garden. (what do you want to grow and where it will be planted in your garden)
Prep and turn over your compost pile. Collect fall leaves, table scrapes and get more manure if needed. (i.e., cow, horse, chicken, rabbit, goat, mushrooms, etc.)
Clear your proposed beds for new items. Turn over the soil and amend with compost.
Lay down cover crop, (alfalfa, red clover, etc), on beds to be left fallow.
Order or collect new seeds, prepare trays or cups with potting soil, label each cell or cup.
Start those seedlings in a location that is not too hot now, or cold later.
Mulch and feed perennials for the winter, prune trees and bushes as necessary.
Be prepared to bring delicate plants inside for winter.
So, once again, the word to the wise is…”get ready”. Summer is just about gone and it won’t be long until we start seeing the school buses picking up kids on the corners throughout the county. Soon after, we’ll notice the leaves will fall…by the way, that’s why they call it FALL.
Peace and blessings, Karim