Oh the misty mornings, the fresh brewed coffee, the hazy Autumn glow of sunrise! My favorite time of year! Pumpkins, gourds, and winter squash are now nearly ripe and many are ready for harvest! I love all the colors and textures of the various winter squash, and love cooking with them all winter. We store ours in our cool basement, where they generally last until March or April as we work our way through them.
Summer veggies are finishing up and we’re spending a few precious hours here and there freezing, canning, and picking as much as we can. My chickens and turkeys get the imperfect/damaged, or slug-chewed tomatoes as well as monster giant zucchinis every few days, and boy do they love ‘em! Any that we just can’t finish freezing, turning into stew, or deep frying for tacos (my favorite) we share with friends, family, and neighbors!
As we move into that beautiful glow of crisp Autumn, and prepare for the coming rains, the fruits of our labors over the past months are vivid in the garden. Apples, some already falling from the tree, are ready (or close!) to harvest. We slice the pears and plums that have been dripping in our garden and dry them in our dehydrator for snacks all winter. Some I freeze for later processing into jelly and jam when I have more time over the winter. The jam from ‘Imperial Epineuse’ Plum for example is absolutely amazing and goes great with everything from peanut butter, to glazing roast chicken or turkey. Grape clusters that have been swelling for months are now getting sweeter with each evening of cooler weather. We like to crush and juice them, and freeze many quarts in recycled plastic juice containers, which don’t shatter. Remember to leave a couple inches at the top to allow for expansion as the juice freezes. The juice produced from old heirloom grapes like Niagara or some of the many other varieties of awesome grapes we can grow in the South Sound have got flavor like nothing you’ve ever had before! If you’re used to store-bought grape juice, it will blow your mind. Imagine the first time you tasted a tomato you grew yourself after only having had store bought ones for years. The “Eureka!” moment you get once the realization hits that THIS is what grape juice is meant to be….well, you’ll never stop growing grapes again!
The flowers of late summer are really showing off for their last hurrah! We always tend to plant our flowers in our garden (and everything else!) a bit late due to the time & work crunch at the nursery in spring, but in August, September, and October we are blessed with beautiful flowers to bring indoors for bouquets. Bringing in flowers from the garden as the light slowly fades this time of year helps us to truly appreciate the beauty of the changing seasons. I like to combine evergreen herbs like Rosemary and sage in bouquets with our lingering summer flowers. This year we grew tons of Coreopsis, Zinnias, Calliopsis, Cosmos, Dahlias, Amaranth, Scabiosa, Nicotiana, Foxglove, Celosia, and heirloom Marigolds like little Gem” and “Red Embers”.
Our (David Austin) English Roses planted a couple of years ago have given us months of beauty, but they really shine in Autumn and seem to like the cooler weather much more than the 80-90+ degree days of full summer. This year we also planted several shrub, climbing, and hybrid tea roses of various types throughout the garden. We’re continuing to plant more roses this Fall, which is the perfect time to plant!
We’ve started to get our next garden beds ready for planting the spring-blooming flower bulbs like daffodils, tulips, and crocus. Our native soil is heavy clay with a low (acidic) pH and low calcium and phosphorus, so we work in compost, lime, and bone-meal for planting our fall bulbs. This gives them a great start by neutralizing the soil pH, boosting calcium and phosphorus, and feeding all the right beneficial microbes and bacteria in the soil that will continue to feed the roots of the plants into the spring.
We’ve now started the task of planting more fruit and nut trees as well. So far we’ve planted hazelnuts, elderberries, and will soon be planting apples, peaches, and almonds. Fall is the best time to plant any trees, shrubs, or perennial plants. The rain is actually a blessing for root development for all these plants, which will continue to push forth roots throughout the year anytime it’s above freezing. Anyone that’s planted trees here knows that our dry season is hard on newly establishing trees and shrubs. So the longer we give them to spread their all-important roots before the drought season, the better. And the easier it is for us to keep them alive the following summer.
A key to successful tree (and shrub) planting is to choose the appropriate site. Most fruit trees need 8 hrs of full sun to produce well. If we’re talking about peaches, nectarines, or apricots the more sun the better! Good drainage is also very important. If you have a high water table, as we do in some areas of our pasture, you’d be better off to choose another site, or consider creating a raised planting area so the tree roots are not covered with waterlogged soil all winter, and so that beneficial aerobic bacteria and fungi can thrive and boost the health of your tree. These critters have a huge role in the health of your tree, similar to how our gut bacteria are critical to our own health and absorption of nutrients. Compost added to the native soil, whether predominantly clay or gravel, helps the health of the soil and your tree. Compost creates drainage channels in clay soil, and helps to retain appropriate levels of water and nutrients in gravelly soil. It also helps by adding beneficial fungi and microbes to the soil. Compost is a great addition when planting trees, but don’t go past adding about 30% to your total back-fill of soil when planting. If you make the tree hole too wonderful, your tree roots won’t want to spread out, and you want them to spread and grow. Another important addition here when planting trees is lime. We use calcium carbonate “garden lime”, not dolomite lime. Dolomite has a high percentage of magnesium which tends to “tighten” up clay soils (making drainage even worse), and magnesium is not normally deficient in our area. So if you really want to add dolomite, consider getting a soil test first from Thurston Conservation District in order to see if you need magnesium. Our soils here are often acidic, which prevents nutrients from being taken up by plants because it limits the health of beneficial bacteria and fungi. So adding garden lime helps to bring that pH up to a level where the good microbes can thrive and deliver nutrients to your plants.
Most of all, this Fall I hope you all have the time to just sit and enjoy your garden, to breathe in all the scents and take in the sights of this magical changing season. Have a glass of cider out in your garden with a friend. And remind yourself that you are an integral part of nature, and that every bulb you plant or tree you tend is an act of hope for our future, and a celebration of life in the present.
About me: After over 20 years in the sustainable landscaping and garden design industry both in the Pacific NW and in the UK, I opened Eastside Urban Farm & Garden Center in 2013 in Olympia, WA. My background combines Permaculture design, traditional horticulture training, organic gardening, and regenerative agriculture. My goal has always been to provide the tools, plants, products, and educational resources to help people grow their own food sustainably and organically, and to help them consciously design, maintain, and restore their land and farms in the most ecologically sound manner possible. I believe strongly that we are all tasked with leaving this world in a better state than we found it. My hope with this Blog is to provide folks in the South Sound clear information on general seasonal tasks, as well as specifics on various aspects of maintaining their farms, gardens, orchards, and homesteads. I believe that by working consciously to restore the land, ecosystems, and soil health, we can help create a healthier food system, a healthier Earth, and a better future for our children and generations to come.
– Brighida deVargas, September 2023