These warm sunny days leading up to the first frost are truly glorious. I keep finding more reasons to go outdoors to catch those balmy breezes and take in all the colors of fall. And one of those reasons is to tend my backyard garden, whether watering, harvesting, or preparing areas for the winter.
For those of you that haven't followed my garden posts, the veggie plots are located so that our suburban lot looks pretty much like the other lots around us. I've nothing against putting the plots right out into the middle of the lawn, but I know I don't have the stamina to tend that large a garden. Better to let the large areas be easily mowed grass which is tended by my husband (head cook in our household).
What we do have are two strips of vegetable garden, one along the deck in back, and the other along the back privacy fence (this strip having chicken wire on the other three sides to keep out rabbits). I also nestle a couple of summer squash plants--one zucchini and one yellow crookneck--between perennials around the house foundation, in a spot where they get just enough sun to give us six to ten squash each during the growing season. And that's plenty.
The shadier end of the deck strip has several types of herbs, some which survive the winter. The shadier end of the back fence strip has the raspberry patch. Plus we have two dwarf fruit trees, a plum and a peach, both only in their second year planted here. We were astonished that our tiny peach tree set one fruit, and we ate it only a month ago--large and delicious! We hope for a few more next year.
Continuous Harvest, Minimal Preservation
While we occasionally freeze a small bag of raspberries or tomato sauce, we are not into long term preservation. If there is a surplus of anything it is given to neighbors, family, and friends--or the community food pantry. Our goal is to have various crops maturing at different times, and to select the plant varieties for home gardeners like us, that mature continuously until frost. This year I finally managed three sowings of beet seeds in our 18 by 30 inch beet plot, which has enabled us to have beets with supper every couple of weeks, despite the intense damage done by deer back in July.
Heat and Animal Damage
Actually in July we didn't know if the garden was going to end badly. The heat and dryness of last summer made what little there was to pick tough and bitter. Deer started foraging each night, and we'd never had damage to the vegetables from deer before.
My daughter dug up her no-good broccoli, but I kept cutting and discarding the tops off mine until cooler temperatures arrived. I got a few bowls of good broccoli tips out of it, useful in salads or stir-fry. Now I'm going to let the buds bloom and provide late season nourishment for the bees.
My Home-Made Raised Carrot Bed
I made a renewed attempt to grow carrots this year. Carrots are so cheap to buy, it hardly seems worth it, especially if they are hard to dig. My daughter once told me a plan she had for growing carrots that she never actually did, of using boards in a V formation filled with soil to grow them in above ground. That strategy intrigued me.
Late this spring I made my own raised carrot bed using junk from the garage. I had two plastic crates and a couple pieces of untreated lumber just 20 inches long or so and as wide as the crates are high. Inside the rabbit fenced garden strip by the back fence, I set the two crates far enough apart so the boards would reach between, and used another wood scrap as a stake to hold the side away from the chicken wire against the crate edges. I put several thicknesses of folded newspaper around the outer sides of the crates to hold in the dirt. Then I filled the crates and space between with potting soil about 10 inches deep. I planted Danvers half-long carrot seeds to further help in pulling them out.
Aside from having to water this raised bed fairly often, it worked like a charm. I've been pulling large delectable carrots out of it for many weeks. The smaller ones remaining then grow larger. The carrots grew well right up against the container sides or very close to other carrots. That's good, because thinning them is difficult. The carrots keep very well in the refrigerator and maintain their flavor--whereas we try to pick beets right before we cook them.
Brussels Sprouts and Kale
These two cool season crops turned out to be very easy to grow, my first attempt with them. I bought plants to set out, a four-pack of each, and that was plenty for our needs. I know that as fall goes on, they will only taste better. When you decide you'd like to eat either the kale or brussels spouts, you go pick it. The plants stay in fine condition and do the work of maintaining the parts we like to eat. Like the beets and carrots remaining in the ground, the kale leaves and sprouts on the stalks are ready when we are. These attributes are very useful for gardeners like us!
The fall crop of berries has been coming on for weeks. Each day I pick about 2/3 rds of a cup. On the days our five year old granddaughter is here, she helps pick them--and the little bowl is empty by the time we're done! Other days I set the bowl of berries in the refrigerator and we put them on top breakfast cereal. Raspberries only keep a couple of days in the refrigerator, so if we get more than we can eat, we toss those in the freezer right away.
Pumpkins and Beans
This year my daughter's baking pumpkins did very well, and the vines cover most of her large garden. It was the first time she'd grown them, and their success made up for the failures of other crops. She gave me permission to harvest a row of beans, to salvage what I could. Those beans made three servings of delicious soup. Being retired, I can fuss with things like that. It's how I have fun.
Our little grandchild learned this year about shelling beans, and it looks like she finds it as much fun as I do. I hope she keeps that sense of garden fun for a long long while!