Category Archives: fall gardens

Spider webs…nature’s alert tones!

spiderwebGarden folklore says that if spiders weave abundant webs it is the precursor to a rough winter. I am not sure about the webs the spiders have created in your garden, but mine are mesmerizing. The spiders have been very noticeable and obviously up to something. Call it folklore; but there is a scientific term “Phenology” which is the study of the relationship between climate and periodic biological phenomena like spiders weaving their webs shorter during an approaching storm or thicker in preparation for a rough winter.  The flowering period of plants, bird migration, insect hatching, behaviors, and hibernation are all phenological events.

Gardeners and farmers have used phenology since they began to cultivate earth. They simply used intuition and observation to learn the connection to nature for successful growing and harvesting. The reasoning is valid, because you cannot always rely on the calendar. A cold wet spring may delay planting and blooming, a warm winter period fools bulbs into emerging. Watching natural behavior instead of the calendar for garden activities and weather forecasting brings out the phenologist in all of us.

As fall has ushered in the colors of the leaves deepen and the days grow shorter, a common question is with such a crazy hot/cold

summer, what will winter bring. Does nature really know the secret?

 Interesting lore and facts on how nature signals the seasons:

-If the foliage on the trees is thick and hangs on late in the fall, it is going to be a hard winter. The reasoning is- the heavier foliage creates thicker ground cover, which in turn protects larva and other organisms below the soil.

-If fur on animals (such as squirrels, rabbits, deer, fox, and bear — or even domestic fur-bearing animals, if they stay outside all the time) is thick, it is going to be a hard winter.

-It is said that horses spook more easily around Halloween. It is not eerie, but more a sign of fall in full swing.  Daylight hours lessen and shadows shift and move differently as the sun lowers in the sky. They cast longer shadows across pathways and wind rattles dried fallen leaves making a shift in natural sounds; causing a reason to spook or feel unsettled.

-Clear moon, means frost soon. When the night sky is clear the earth’s surface cools rapidly because there is no cloud cover to hold the heat. If the night is clear enough to see the moon, then the temperatures will drop.

-Wasps building nests in exposed places indicate a dry season, when they build nests near the ground a harsh winter is expected.

The interesting part of the spider theory in this year’s garden; forecasters are telling we will have a snowy, wet winter with temperatures below normal.  Hmmm…spiders or forecasters… only time will tell.


Wordless Wednesday


Falling

Daylight hours begin to slip away hardly noticed,
The days are warm and sunny while nights have a season changing chill,
There is a feel to the air as the breeze blows through an open window,
The signs are here that we are falling into another season.

 


Autumn has two faces.

One side shows a fire of colors that weave through the hillside and the garden naturally senses that it is time to slow down. Gardeners are ready for the slower pace too.

The other side of fall is looking forward to the renewal of next spring. Bulbs are planted and compost is topped in empty planting spaces to nourish growth for the return of longer days. Fresh toppings of compost cover soil that worked hard over the summer.

 
Inspirations for the fall garden
Cool garden tasks
The time is now to accomplish postponed jobs.  Dig out under achievers in the garden and be a bit ruthless if needed. Replace them with those impulse plants purchases sitting by the potting bench awaiting a home.

Get limey to be less sour
In history, it is said that farmers literally tasted the soil. They described soil as “sour” when the pH is too low, “bitter” when the pH is too high and “sweet” when the pH is “just right” for good crop growth. Hmmm, I’ll take a soil test instead. Fall is a good time to add lime to lawn areas. Lime will improve the availability of essential plant nutrients as the PH is adjusted a bit sweeter.

Bulbs, bulbs and more bulbs
Plant spring-flowering bulbs in abundance to make a statement. Daffodils and tulips selectively chosen for dramatic color blends or in monochromatic plantings scream for attention. Never buy just a small bag of bulbs for planting think of it like an abundant flower bouquet. If you aren’t willing to plant 50 to 100 bulbs in a cluster, then don’t bother, unless they are specialty bulbs like lilies.

 

Love those hips
Roses that produce lovely hips look especially jewel-like in the fall. Rugosa roses like the varieties ‘Hansa’ and ‘Buffalo Gal’ have large round hips.The blue-leaved rose, Rosa glauca (Rosa rubrifolia) is not known for exceptional flowers but the rose hips more than make up for them. The large arching branches (up to 8 feet) on this plant hang lower late in the season from the abundance. The hips cling on through the winter.

Gather for the future
Collect seeds from annual flowers. Look for the Papery bracts and pods of poppies, cosmos, Bachelor buttons, marigolds and Love in a mist (Nigella).

Enjoy the slower pace of the fall to catch up and breathe in the sweet autumn air..


Future sustainable gardener

Can’t resist another  kid story, somehow being a grandma gives inalienable rights. My granddaughter Alexis was visiting over the weekend and as always,  loves to be outside chasing the dogs, riding her bike and gardening. Since she was tiny,  she puttered around with me, even when she was just an infant, she would sit outside on a blanket while I gardened. I often wonder if that is how she spouts plant names so readily, by hearing me mutter them under my breath as I worked away.  She is an awesome weeder, greenhouse sweeper,tag sorter, container garden waterer and even helped plant my whole veggie garden this year. (Probably another post on our latest harvest of potatoes, stay tuned.)

Last Saturday,  we were working outside, I was raking leaves and trying to win a battle against blackberries along the property line.  I hear Alexis, excited and yelling, “Nana, look what the rain left for me.” She had gone down to the potager and found her watering can had filled with rain water. She said, “the rain left me water for your plants”. She proceeded to water my container gardens with her little green watering can. Hours later, as we were cleaning up the tools for the day, her watering can was perched on a stone wall near the garden, I asked her to put it away. She told me no…that she needed to leave it out so the rain could give her more water. I really can’t argue with that logic.

It also gave me a moment to ponder about what I do and the business-side of gardening; sometimes it can feel a bit over-processed and uptight.  Once in a while,  it is nice to think like a 4-year-old… “Look what the rain left for me…”

 


More…pondering of Squash

A recent trip to the grocery store brings about the inspiration for this story. As I was in line to pay, the customer in front of me was purchasing acorn squash. This time of year, they are piled high in produce bins alongside the multicolored gourds, ornamental corn, and mini pumpkins. The teenager bagging the groceries held up one of the acorn squash, surveying it, and asked, “What do you do with these?” The purchaser replied she was going to make baked stuffed squash to which the perplexed teen replied I thought these were only for Halloween decorations. Hmmm, so what do we really do with squash and what the heck are gourds anyway?

Cucurbitaceae is a genus of annual plants that crawl around taking up space with their languishing vines and produce fruits at the base of the blossoms. A plant family with a broad range of over 700 species that includes cucumbers, pumpkins, melons, and squash.

Summer Squash

These are the earliest picked of the group and include cucumbers, zucchini, and crookneck. They are harvested when the seeds are immature inside and the flesh is still tender and edible. The vines are more bush-like and do not take up as much space in the garden. These can be harvested anytime they are showing their full color and size.

Gourds

These are hard-shelled with little flesh inside, they dry and preserve well. In history, they have been used as musical instruments, spoons, bowls, and as a sponge (the luffa gourd). Ornamental gourds are grown most often for decoration and have many types of usual colors, shapes, and warty texture making them prized for fall decorations. Gourds are ready to harvest from the garden when the stems dry out and turn brown. Leave a few inches of stem attached to prevent rotting.

Pumpkins

They get a class all their own by the very nature of their popularity. As noted by my previous post, they also get a post all their own! This bright orange harbinger of autumn are typically thought of for decorating but the smaller sugar pumpkins are flavorful when the pulp is baked to the consistency of pudding and used in soups, cakes, breads and pies. Harvest pumpkins when the color is deep and rich and the outside is hard. Leave 3 to 4 inches of stem attached to prevent premature rotting at the stem end.

Winter squash

These fruits have harder skins that need a longer growing period. Hubbard, butternut, and acorn are a few familiar ones. Winter squash are warm-season plants. They differ from summer squash because they are harvested in the mature fruit stage; picked when the seeds inside are fully mature and the skin has hardened into a tough rind. Most varieties can be stored for use throughout the winter. Typically, they are cut open and baked to soften the insides with spices or meats to season them. Most have a nutty flavor and tend to pick up other flavors easily.

So really, what do you do with acorn squash?

Baked Acorn Squash

This is a recipe from childhood. I remember the warmth of the kitchen and the aroma of maple syrup as my mom would bake up acorn squash as a side dish for dinner.

One acorn squash, cut in 1/2

 2 tablespoons butter, softened

 2 tablespoons brown sugar

 2 tablespoons maple syrup

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Scoop the seeds and stringy pulp out of the squash halves and discard. Lightly score the inside halves with a knife. Combine the brown sugar, butter, syrup in a small mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Rub and coat the cleaned inside cavities of the squash with the butter mixture. Place them on a baking sheet, cut side up. Bake for about 1 hour or until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork.

 

 


Pumpkins from garden to table

pile-o-pumpkins

I love this time of year and all the piles  of pumpkins in stores and the u-pick farms.

It’s time for fall harvests and pumpkins are everywhere.  In the garden, nothing delights kids more than to see bright orange fruits peeking out from under a vine.  Growing pumpkins is not for every garden. The sprawling vines take over, under and all around a garden space. In my small Potager, (kitchen garden) in the midst of everything else I want to grow, I always make room for a pumpkin plant or two. This year, I had one vine dangle over the top of the fence with a small pumpkin hanging on for dear life!

grow where I may

 

 

Even though it is out of season to talk about growing them, here are some tips to consider when planning your next growing season.  To help reign in the long pumpkin vines here are a few tricks I use to conserve space. As soon as I see a softball sized fruits forming, I cut off any new growth beyond that fruit. This allows it to grow bigger and ripen, rather than have the plant continue to put energy into forming more. I also gently move the vines as they are growing and start to form a large spiral (without breaking them) rather than allow the vines to take off in all directions. Turn growing pumpkins occasionally to avoid them being lopsided. Leave them on the vine as long as possible if they are still green to promote ripening. Harvest pumpkins when the vine begins to die out and the pumpkin is showing its full, rich color.

Pumpkin varieties vary from good carving to the sweet varieties for eating. Carving pumpkins are typically grown for size and not for baking. Carvers to grow include “Howden”, “Racer” and “Connecticut Field”. For baking choose, the Cinderella pumpkin “Rouge VIF D’Etampes”, “Small Sugar” and “SnackJack”. Unique novelties to grow are “Lumina” (white skinned, yellow flesh), “Baby Boo”, “Jack-B-Little” and “Jarrahdale”

Harvest and enjoy!

Recipes to try:

Pumpkin Mush

Pick the sweet varieties for baking. The pulp can be used in pies, soups, cakes and cookies.

Cut the pumpkin in half. Remove the seeds and fibers. Place the cut halves on a cookie sheet. Bake in a 350° oven for 20 to 60 minutes (depending on the size). The pumpkin is done when the skin is brown and you can easily push a fork through it. Allow to cool and scoop the flesh out of the skin. Puree or mash it. It should have a consistency of pudding. To preserve, pack into freezer bags in 2 cup quantities. Two cups of mash will equal about a 16 ounce can. Use in pies, soups, and cookies.

Pumpkin Soup

This brings back memories when I was little girl in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. We once had a Thanksgiving dinner at the Old Salem Inn. As a kid the thought of pumpkin soup sounded weird, but the taste was good!

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups cooked, mashed pumpkin

3 cups half and half milk

2 teaspoons chicken bouillon granules

½ teaspoon pepper

1/8th teaspoon powdered allspice

1/8th teaspoon ginger

Salt to taste

In a saucepan, melt the butter, and then add the pumpkin. Stir well and add remaining ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower heat and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Serve in bowls or mugs. If desired,  top with a sprinkle of sunflower seeds, croutons, a dollop of sour cream,  fresh parsley or small snips of chives.


Leafy memories and lazy composting

As I was pumping gas today staring off into the distance, I realized how annoyed I was by a landscape company’s incessant buzzing sound as they were cleaning up the parking lot. I looked towards the noise wondering what they were doing. Methodically, and must I say quite artistically, a man was blowing swirls of yellow and gold leaves into tidy piles along the curb.

Somehow, the annoying hum of the leaf blower faded as I watched the piles of leaves get higher and higher. A childhood memory floated in my mind of our yard in North Carolina. We had a huge back yard filled with tall trees, no garden-just trees, and every fall the ground was a blanket of brown crispy oak and maple leaves. My dad would rake them into huge piles and we would run into them head-first. (What is it about a pile of leaves that make people run into them without a care about what you might hit when you bottom out?)

It really was just simply joyous. Our big black dog would disappear in the piles until all you could see was a furry black nose coming through a burst of leaves. The memory is so strong that I can still remember the earthy smell of fallen leaves. My garden in the Pacific Northwest has tall towering fir trees…a much less deciduous garden where those massive piles of leaves really don’t exist like I remember when I was a child. (Really, everything is bigger when you are a kid)

I look at leaves in a very different sort of way now…mulch and compost…death and decay. A different kind of joy-garden gold.  I do love this lazy composting method by Marianne B. in her latest newspaper column. http://www.thenewstribune.com/2010/11/10/1417648/fallen-leaves-are-great-source.html

Got leaves?

Rake them in a big pile,

jump in with joy,

stand up-creaking joints and aching muscles all the way

brush off random leaves

pull out a garbage bag and fill ‘er up!


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