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fall gardening AKA don’t put down your beer

September 10, 2012

I’ve lost track a little of the garden. I’m no longer riding the dizzying high called potential. Yesterday afternoon I took a beer out into the yard, let the chickens out and laid down in the grass (weeds) for a long time.

Col and Rose were next door in our neighbors’ yard playing football, which is funny because they don’t know much about organized sports, and somehow our 11-year old neighbor had Rose chanting “Defense! Defense! Defense!” on the sidelines while Col was cheerfully and unknowingly charging out of bounds with the football, as triumphant as Joe Montana in the, er, 1980’s (egads, that’s the first football player I could think of).

Camo on the line – must be almost time for another hunting trip.

And from my spot in the alfalfa/mallow/dandelion, I could sense that we’ve reached the non-striving part of the garden season. That place where I’m no longer helicopter parenting my tomatoes or strategizing for maximum anything, but just lying in the September grass (weeds) with a beer, vaguely cheering everyone on, grasshoppers and knobby red beets.

Already, the big seedy heads of dill look more like next year’s crop than this year’s.

And the powdery mildew on the cukes is about as menacing as a toddler’s last flare up before bed.

The flowers are stunning (when I remember to water them), but I’m more focused on bouquets of spent lettuce, shaking their little comma-seeds into a paper bag.

And the raspberries coming back for a finale seem more like a bonus treat than anything to which we’re entitled.

I do, however, have a few tidbits of practical advice for the fall garden, things you can accomplish without setting down your beer.

Because daily growth has slowed and our first frost is anywhere from 1-4 weeks away, I cut back any winter squash vines that aren’t nursing fruit. It’s like vegetal twister trying to track which vine came from where, but always exciting to see what’s happening beneath the curtain of leaves.

I also cut back all flowering stalks on tomatoes that haven’t set fruit, as well as some extraneous leaves, in hopes of funneling the plant’s energy to the fruit that remain.

I am, as they say in California, “holding space” for all the tomatoes to ripen into enough fruit for sauce, salsa and ketchup.

Also, I summon up all my inner ruthlessness and cut down all the skyscraping hollyhocks and sunflowers that shade out the edibles.

Hollyhocks on their way to the chicken coop. How are your 1st year hollyhocks?

And crazily, I’m still planting seeds. The radishes I called “fall radishes” that I planted 30 days ago, have already been harvested, so I threw another round of true “fall radish” seeds in the ground last week.

I’ve also planted lettuce/chard/arugula/kale seeds in flats in the greenhouse and outside, because 1) the best time to plant a seed is now, 2) fall can be a like the band who’s encore goes on and on, 3) greens are not afraid of the cold.

Finally, watch the weather report and be prepared to cover frost-tender plants (tomatoes, squash, cukes, basil…) with blankets, sheets, towels. Additionally, placing plastic jugs filled with water at the base of frost-tender plants can help mitigate the increasingly colder nights.

But the very best of the September garden is eating like a toddler again, simple foods, nothing touching.

What’s happening in your fall garden? How do you transition your garden into a new season?

ps: winner of the spot in the Intro to Canning class is Kyndale! Kyndale, I will get your e-mail to Kathie and she’ll give you the secret code. For those who didn’t win, I hope to “see” you in your pajamas on Sept 20th, where I promise not to take up too much class time with my fear-of-pressure-canning paranoia/enthusiasm.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. September 10, 2012 7:51 am

    thank you for the tips! i was wondering, as i lay in bed this morning if my tomato cages would support a down sleeping bag thrown over them…probably not the typical course of action for chilly nights, but it comes from the heart and i sure don’t want to buy anything…have a lovely monday, my dear!

  2. September 10, 2012 8:55 am

    YAYYY!!!!! : ) yOU MAde my day. I was having such a hard day yesterday! Thank you.

    It’s such a good analogy about riding the high of potential. So true. I am just riding the wave until the end of this garden season. So, chickens love hollyhock? I have some for them.

    Thank you again! xo

  3. September 10, 2012 9:51 am

    I’m so right there with you. It’s all winding down, and it turns out, I’m OK with that. But I do need to go harvest some more tomatoes!

  4. September 10, 2012 11:02 am

    For me, it’s what can become accomplished in our garden without putting down my coffee. We’re harvesting brussel sprouts and getting ready to plant a fall crop. Love the description of your kids playing football..

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      September 10, 2012 11:56 am

      brussels sprouts! that feels like the most grown up thing to produce in your own garden. Yum! Enjoy.

  5. Michele permalink
    September 10, 2012 11:07 am

    Hollyhock seeds produced three plants that were more wide than tall. Had to transplant them and that set them back however in their new spot they have a pergola to climb and seem to be hanging in. Hope to see them back next year!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      September 10, 2012 11:57 am

      Yes, first year hollyhocks are more wide than tall; next year they will be more tall than wide. xo

  6. September 10, 2012 11:23 am

    sooo…do tell, what is in your squash? can’t tell if it’s meat or seeds or (and i realize this is probably way off the mark) chocolate chunks…

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      September 10, 2012 11:58 am

      Those are roasted almond chunks. Mmmmmmm.

  7. September 10, 2012 6:19 pm

    Racehl, someone gave my husband a lovely reasonable-sized eggplant. What can I do with it? I have never eaten nor fixed one (shame on me). Help!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      September 11, 2012 1:04 pm


      I like to do one of 2 things with eggplant:

      1) chop, salt, drizzle with olive oil and roast at 350F for 40 minutes. Eat on rice/pasta and with other veggies. 2) chop, salt, drizzle with olive oil and roast at 350F for 40 mins and blend with 1/4 cup olive oil, juice of one lemon, 1 clove garlic, and maybe some tahini and parsley. Eggplant dip!

  8. September 10, 2012 7:39 pm

    Yes… when people (who I haven’t seen in a while) ask me how my garden was this season, I just smile and say, “Oh, it was just fine,” in that laying in the weeds-with-a-beer-in-your-hand kind of way. You described it just right.

  9. Ania permalink
    September 11, 2012 9:34 am

    you can see straight away those are “real” eggs you’re eating.

  10. September 11, 2012 3:52 pm

    my first year hollyhocks are thriving! i cannot wait to see what they do next year! you are magical if you are able to do all you are doing without setting down your beer, i think i’d have to have my beer in one of those backpacking water thingies with the long straw on it. i love the bonus radish crop. i am in garlic planting mode right now… only first i had to dig a bunch of potatoes to make space. here on our lovely coast there are no truer words that can be said than NOW is the time to plant seeds (it sucks until pretty much june for seeds around here but now they sprout instantaneously.) we can grow in addition to greens, potatoes, fava beans, i’ve heard of people growing peas (but have been unsuccessful) and root crops like rutabegas and turnips and parsnips and carrots and beets and radishes. not bragging- we are hard pressed to get anything much else all summer, it takes a greenhouse to produce a pepper, but we can go all year, so we work with what we’ve got. xoxo

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      September 11, 2012 5:33 pm

      Okay, truthfully, the concrete blocks that frame our raised beds have perfect holes for beers, which is handy if the gardening task requires 2 hands. Also, I am reading The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe right now. She lives in the Willamette valley and is very Oregon-centric, and it’s a fascinating book. So glad to hear about your thriving hollyhocks.

  11. September 12, 2012 7:37 am

    I always love reading your gardening posts. I wasn’t raised by gardeners, but am trying, slowly, but surely, to become one. I realize that my journey would be easier if I could just bring a gardener onto our deck and ask, “Why do my tomatoes keep splitting at the top?” and say, “Look at the shape of that cucumber!”

    I feel like tending food is one of those arts that still belongs to the oral tradition; thanks for keeping the telling alive for those of us who grew up eating canned vegetables! xo

  12. Jamie permalink
    September 12, 2012 6:20 pm

    Well, hollyhocks were a no – go this year :( To hot? I also planted them in a part of the yard that wasn’t high priority watering, so, yeah.
    I am bummed to hear about the tomatoes. I think I did everything wrong, My plant didn’t start producing fruit until Augusts? It is now full of green tomatoes and I am worried about the frost, especially since today was so cold (!) and rainy (!). We are expected to get as low as 47 tonight but warming up quickly tomorrow morning and being back in the low 80’s soon….. fingers cross about frost. Tomorrow I will go and cut back the plant and hope that the greenies ripen quickly.
    My broccoli also hasn’t flowered and I am not sure that it will :( One plant has been 100% claimed by aphids. I don’t know. I have never done this before and am only guessing that the surprise sunflowers really didn’t help matters, though the shade help keep down the heat a bit this summer.
    I need to cut them down, but I also want them to reseed for next year while also feeding birds. I feel like the tomatoes, left over carrots, and sad broccoli are just a loss and maybe I should just take it like a big girl. Do you have any suggestions?
    Also, I do have a non garden question. Two maple seeds produced babies in my yard this spring and I would really like them to grow/survive as our yard is like a heat wave all summer – no shade to be had allllll day long. They are maybe only 4 – 6 inches tall right now. How should I treat them in the fall and winter? I was thinking about putting milk jugs over them when it gets cold, but will that be enough for the winter? Will they pull through on their own? I mean, trees grow all the time all over without people, right?

    Sorry for the long comment. Enjoy the awesomeness of fall!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      September 12, 2012 9:46 pm


      1) The hollyhocks may very well come up next year without you doing anything. 2) If your tomatoes are full of green fruit that is great! Keep your eye out for frosts and cover them if temps are dipping into the low-mid 30’s. If you survive a September frost, you can get 2-3 more weeks of tomato-growing weather. And any tomatoes that don’t ripen on the vine can be ripened in paper bags. They don’t have the *best* flavor but are fine in sauces/cooked. And yes, cut back the plant. Cut back any flowering stalks and many extra leaves as well. Think: severe haircut. 3) Sunflowers are VERY good at reseeding themselves. Even in you cut most down and leave a few, chances are you’ll have plenty sunflowers next year. 4) There are always losses. My carrots were puny and sparse this year, even after 3 sowings. 5) Baby maple: I would just make sure they get watered a few times if snow is sparse over the winter. Also, it will take a LONG time for those 4-6 inch saplings to give shade. You’d be better off spending the $ on a nice, fast-growing tree now or next spring.

      xo Rachel

  13. September 12, 2012 11:51 pm

    I am fermenting! Well, not mea actually. Although the salt on my body from yesterday’s run could be doing that magic dance you sing about. Hmm.

    We had our frost last night. We didn’t cover our plants and, thankfully, it is ok. Barely.

    I love the camo on the line. I saw it and was thinking, ‘amazing that she has so many brown clothes! What a dedicated gardener.’


  14. September 12, 2012 11:52 pm

    Eeek! I left a comment! Yay wordpess! Happy I tried again. Even with my typo. Nigh night.

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