Autumn is upon us and the leaves have begun to change to their final display of colors. It is a lovely time of year. The daylight hours are noticeably shorter. The air is crisp and cool. I feel the heavy dew each morning as I go to look at the last few crops in my garden.
Brussels sprouts are full and I have been eating them for a few weeks. There are enough on the vine to enjoy through October and perhaps into November. Broccoli and leeks are two other cool weather crops to harvest in late October. Keep in mind that Leeks and Brussels sprouts are long season crops. Long season meaning that it takes longer than a standard (for most crops) growth period of 60 – 75 days from sowing to harvest. Brussels sprouts take about 120 days Leeks are about 90 to 100 days. Some lettuce also remains and just this past weekend I dug up the last of the potatoes to make potato and leek soup. My winter squashes, acorn and butternut, are put away to be consumed over the next few months. Some of the squash will be used to make a creamy soup as well. All the beans and tomatoes have been harvested and eaten. There is plenty of basil turned to pesto in my freezer. I gave away many peppers this year and have a few large green bells to make stuffed peppers this week. Plenty of hot red peppers too. They are drying in the shed along with the sunflower heads.
One of my favorite ways to prepare Brussels sprouts is to par boil them until they are almost fully cooked. Then have several slices of bacon cut into small pieces cooked till near crispy in a separate pan. Add some minced shallots. Toss in the par-cooked Brussels and finish with a touch of butter, salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve them hot.
It was a good year in the garden and I owe a lot of thanks to Diane for all the work she did. Right around the time I got the past winter’s cover-crop turned under and started on the first wave of early planting, my schedule got very busy. People who know me understand that I have my fingers in a wide array of projects and there were a few that suddenly demanded serious and immediate attention. Diane arrived in late May and got right to work, sifting compost, weeding and sowing the summer crops. I had started lettuce, broccoli, beans but if we expected to have the full bounty in late summer we needed to get a lot of stuff in the ground.
The biggest set-back this year was an early deer attack on my first crop of beans and lettuce. Adding welded wire fencing all the way around and the mesh netting above has been an effective way to repel the deer for the remainder of the season. So far so good. Usually, the deer don’t do much damage until later in the growing cycle, like August and September, but this year they have been in abundance and due to the new power lines that went in nearby, the forest critters are on the move. We were both surprised to see deer nearly every day for more than a month in early summer. In addition to the food crops, Diane gave the garden a bit of the feminine touch. On the NW corner, next to the wild lily now stands a beautiful display of colorful flowers, many of which attract Hummingbirds and butterflies!
Hummingbirds have visited my garden in previous years and butterflies are quite standard. They are an indication of a clean and healthy environment. While working in the garden late in August, I caught a glimpse of something in the corner of my eye. It was a quick flash and I first thought it was another humming bird, but it was not. I looked closer and saw that it was an insect hanging on the mesh fencing. To my surprise and delight it was a Praying Mantis!
We frequently see a wide variety of wildlife right in the area, but one big surprise for me was in early summer on the way back from the barn. At about 10:00 AM I was driving along and there, running in the field alongside the road was a big bear! And he was running directly toward the road about to cross my path. I estimate he was near 400 pounds. Healthy looking with a thick and shiny dark chocolate coat and a distinctive brown snout and face. I slowed and slowed as he continued to run then, I had to slam on my brakes to keep from hitting him as he jumped right into the road in front of me! I blew the horn, he stumbled, regained his stride and disappeared into the low brush on the other side of the road. Two things surprised me about the incident; the first– why was he running? Bears usually don’t run, they sort of saunter and lumber about. It takes a lot to get a bear to run. The other thing is that bears are generally nocturnal and do their roaming in the dark…Maybe he was getting back home late after a rough night? It all happened so fast that I would not have been able to snap a photo even if I had my camera with me. I was happy to have avoided colliding with him. My little car would have crumpled if we mashed up. I am not sure he would have noticed!
Well, back in the garden where the season is changing, I am pleased with the performance of the late season crops and enjoy their fresh bounty daily. It is nice to have extended my growing season with a couple of vegetables that are quite expensive in the grocery store and of course the freshness is unbeatable from a home garden. Today I tilled deep about 1/3 of the garden space and planted the winter wheat as a cover-crop. This grows to a thick blanket to protect the topsoil layer. When it is turned under in spring, it releases nitrogen. This bio-mass is a great source of nutrients as it breaks down in the soil. I can’t say that autumn is the end of the gardening season. It is only an end to one cycle of the four seasons. There may be fewer outdoor activities and chores but there is need for plenty of planning for the next spring into summer season.
by Robert Louis Stevenson (from A Child’s Garden of Verses, 1885)
In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!
Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The gray smoke towers.
Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall