Late August in the garden, summer blooms are beginning to fade and gardeners are thinking of fall. It’s also the time when you proudly wonder what in the world you will do with the bounty of vegetables and herbs you have raised during the summer.
Thanks to a friend’s big garden and my 4-square-feet-by-4-square-feet gardens, I have bags and bags of basil. This is not a bad thing; it’s a very good thing.
After pinching leaves, staining my fingers and digging out my food processor, I now have a winter supply of homemade pesto in the freezer. Later this week, I’ll work on green bell and banana peppers, plus find a dark, dry spot (my version of a root cellar) to store the onions that are drying on the deck.
If you’re lucky enough to have fresh potatoes, toss them in the root cellar too, and they will keep throughout the winter. When it comes to cucumbers, my favorite freezer pickle recipe is one shared by a friend and published years ago in the Charleston Daily Mail, and I try to make them every year.
Jams, jellies and canning, I could go on and on, but this would be a food column, not a garden column. I’ll leave the food preparation to the experts, but I do love that raising a garden lets me create my own farm-to-table experience at my little house on a big hill.
My chives, parsley, oregano, sage and rosemary are still growing like crazy, and I use them every day. The good news about an herb garden: The more you use the leaves, the more your plant will produce.
Go ahead and use them, share them and even cut them back, they will keep growing new leaves until frost. I love them mixed into a vase of fresh flowers. Better yet, why not an assorted herb bouquet?
When the first frost is forecast, I cut back the herb stems (with leaves attached) and hang them to dry. Once dry, I put the leaves in small jars, allowing me to use them for months to come.
Late August and early September is also the time to think about planting for a fall harvest. Now is the time to plant your winter collard greens, turnips and radishes. Plant your shallots. Go ahead and seed lettuce and kale for a fall crop. Because of last year’s mild winter, I had fresh kale in January.
Fall is also a good time to plant garlic. Planting it now, about 2 inches deep with heavy mulch, will let the garlic settle in over the winter, and it will be one of the first crops to pop through as the ground thaws in the spring. Carrots love a few inches of mulch to protect them in late fall. Many say the carrots pulled after the first frost have the sweetest taste.
When I think of peas I think of spring, but in doing research, I find I might be able to grow them in the fall. I think that is something I will try this year. Stay tuned for the results of my pea experiment.
Fall growing is more relaxed, and the garden pace is a bit slower. There is not the frantic “I must do everything now” feeling of spring. Remember, cool season gardens won’t have the advantage of spring showers, so be sure to water generously.
As a gardener, I find the slightly cooler temperatures of September a pleasant change from the hot days of mid-summer.
Raising cool-loving plants for a late harvest is one last hurrah for the vegetable gardener. It gives us a reason to work and play in the garden a bit longer — a reason to be outside getting a bit of exercise and fresh garden air.
Not only that, it gives us extra produce to serve and store throughout the winter. If you haven’t planted these cool crops, this is a good year to start. Be mindful of the maturity dates on the seed packets and the coming of frost, but give it a try. My guess is you will be enjoying winter greens through the holidays.
Jane Powell is a long-time West Virginia Extension Service Master Gardener through the Kanawha County chapter and has a garden with sunny spots and shady beds where she grows perennials, vegetables and herbs. She is also the communications director for a community foundation and a volunteer with several nonprofits in the community. Reach Jane at firstname.lastname@example.org.