Posts Tagged ‘autumn’
I try to keep my main planting bed covered in leaves through the winter. In spring, it’s fairly easy to rake the leaves aside and scrape furrows in the moist soil to hold pea seeds. This year, my wife made the furrows. I set and buried the peas. If the leaf cover has done its job, there are almost no weeds to remove, and I dig only where I’m planting.
This blog has traditionally been about how to grow and prepare food and it means to stay that way. I’ve taken detours of late because of family issues (my dad moved out of his house and I spent a lot of time cleaning up after him) and because of health issues (I’m recovering from a Whipple—surgery that removed a pancreatic tumor and re-routed my digestive tract).
Here’s a brief “how-to” to keep the blog on course:
It’s spring, plant!
With help from my wife, I’ve started three rows of peas in the garden. I plant a lot so we have peas to eat until July with plenty left over for the freezer. I once posted a video that shows the method I still use – Small Kitchen Garden Pea Notebook. I also wrote a post explaining how-to – Enough Peas to Preserve.
Peas handle frost well, and will even survive a freeze into the 20s. They aren’t as hardy in hot weather. In my experience, a variety called Wando handles early spring heat better than most. So, given we’re in a streak of hottest months on record, hedge your bets and try to plant Wando peas this year. They grow at least five feet tall, so make sure you rig trellises for them.
I just started seeds for my summer vegetables. My setup this year is on our seldom-used ping-pong table: I used the kids’ cardboard bricks to support a four-foot shop light across the five-foot-wide table. The planters are the bottoms of plastic one-gallon milk jugs filled with a commercial seed-starting mix. I set 16 seeds in each planter, for a total of 112 seeds. Soon, I’ll add a second shop light and start a few other seeds; once the first planting emerges I’ll note what failed to germinate and try again with the same varieties.
Along with peas, this is a good time to plant lettuce, spinach, onions, carrots, and potatoes. All prefer to grow in cool weather and can handle frost—though young potato plants may die back in the cold, they’ll quickly make up for it on warmer days.
Start seeds indoors
We’re at the threshold for indoor seed-starting. That is, if you don’t start yours soon, you’ll lose the advantage you get from indoor starts. Ideally, start tomato, pepper, tomatillo, eggplant, and okra seeds indoors six-to-eight weeks before the average last frost in your area. Turns out, if you start eight weeks early—especially with tomatoes—your seedlings will probably need to be transplanted into larger pots before it’s time to set them in the garden. That’s fine if you have the space to manage it.
Around here, the average last frost is mid-April, so I just planted 72 tomato seeds, 8 tomatillo seeds (a new gardening experience for me), and 32 pepper seeds. It’s very easy to do; I’ve written several posts about it over the years:
Start Your Own Seedlings (this is how I start my seeds)
Small Kitchen Garden Seed-Starting Shelf
Start Seeds in Pellets for Your Small Kitchen Garden
Start Your Small Kitchen Garden from Commercial Flats
Really? Start Seeds Indoors for Your Small Kitchen Garden?
Start Seeds in Pots for Your Small Kitchen Garden
When I assembled photos for my landscapes photo challenge, my set of favorites from 2015 included way more than the requisite seven shots. Rather than choose seven from among 40, I added a Waterscapes photo challenge to my list—and was pleased to learn that “waterscapes” is a real word meaning what I wanted it to mean.
I’ve posted seven waterscapes here. Like the landscapes of my previous post, I captured these photos in central Pennsylvania and in central upstate New York—near Ithaca or on the way to Ithaca from Lewisburg.
This photo isn’t about art so much as it is about Mom. Mom kept a “life list” of birds she spotted through the kitchen window. Years after I left home, she and my dad bought a shack on a cliff above Cayuga lake and spent summers cleaning, painting, and making it into their vacation lake cottage. I enjoyed visiting the cottage, but I didn’t fall in love with it until 2015. I finished emptying and repairing my dad’s house, and tenants moved in. That left me with two options when I visited: sleep on my dad’s sofa in his tiny independent living unit, or stay at the lake cottage. Stoking a fire in the wood stove to hold off cold autumn nights called back years of semi-rustic living. Waking up at the cottage to sounds of rustling leaves and nautical activity was meditative.
It’s possible my mother never saw the birdhouse in this photo. However, seeing it hanging along the stairway down to the lake made it easy to imagine my mom pausing on those stairs to watch birds come and go. I hope to spend time at the cottage this year absorbing the same sensations that lured my parents there.
There are few places that make my dog Nutmeg happier than she is at the local dog park. Far from the park’s parking area, there’s a stream in which Nutmeg tests her Labrador breeding… and fails. She’ll chase sticks into the water and bring them back as long as she never gets in deep enough to swim. Last August, grass seed heads caught sun against the dark waters of Nutmeg’s favorite stream.
Mansfield, Pennsylvania is halfway to Ithaca from the Cityslipper ranch. Mansfield boasts a nature preserve with hiking trails, a picnic area, and a boat launch, and I love to stop there to capture photos. Water at the boat launch is a weird shade of blue that makes me wonder about agricultural runoff, but were that not the case the waterway would still be surreal. In this photo, the white flowers lining the river are knotweed—an invasive that looks awesome in bloom. Depending on cloud cover and the time of day, different features pop, so I always discover something new when I stop in Mansfield.
South and west of Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania there are many waterways that flow to the Susquehanna River. I’ve photographed these streams, creeks, and rivers at so many places, I’m not always sure which is which. It’s compelling to me that I could drop a canoe in one of the streams and float in it 140 miles to the Chesapeake Bay and then into the Atlantic ocean.
On trips to Ithaca, I sometimes drive north to Corning, NY, and then up route 414 to Watkins Glen. The road follows a valley with farmland guarded by wooded hills that put on quite a display in autumn. Last October, I stopped to capture photos where wetlands cover much of the valley floor.
Perhaps stretching the definition of “waterscape,” this is one of dozens of waterfalls at a Pennsylvania nature preserve called Ricketts Glen. We hosted two Japanese students for nearly three weeks in August, and shared a hike with them along the Glen’s most popular trail.
I lingered below a waterfall at Ricketts Glen where the roots of a tree felt their way over rocks to find soil in the creek bed. If you want a photo session in Ricketts Glen, clear the day, go alone, and stay all day… though it’s fun to share the trip with a group.
One of my cousins eloped. Months later, he threw a party. In Minnesota. (I live in central Pennsylvania.) I went. I drove. It was a very pleasant escape.
A benefit of making a long road trip alone: None of your passengers complains when you make side trips, stop to take pictures, drive too late into the evening (or next morning), or fail to find cushy lodging for the night.
I stopped often, but not often enough. Captured photos along the way, but not enough. Moved into a cousin’s house in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota and stayed for two nights. Loved seeing him; we was a great host. Loved his dogs: two yellow labs—one old and slow, one the same age as my Nutmeg.
The Blooming Prairie branch of our family is my Mother’s sister’s clan. We don’t cross paths often; a thousand miles is quite a barrier for busy families. In fact, I hadn’t seen anyone from the Blooming Prairie gang since the year after my mom died; there was a family reunion out there, and we packed our kids and the camping gear into the minivan and drove west.
On that trip, we caught up just a tad (toting a toddler took attention), we attended a July 4th parade that was an hour longer than the longest July 4th parade ON EARTH, and we went fishing at The 40.
This post is about The 40
My uncle invested in land. I learned on my recent trip that he bought farmland and leased it to farmers. He also bought a 40 acre parcel for recreation: The 40. I don’t know the history of The 40’s development. Apparently, the pond is bigger now than it was years ago. In several visits—including the one with my family 20+ years ago—I’d never gone farther than the shore of the pond which is at the bottom of a hill near the entrance drive.
This trip, my cousin showed me The 40. We walked trails from one corner to the other, and he pointed out areas planted in walnut trees, in corn and turnips, in prairie grasses, and in garden flowers.
The 40 is gorgeous. I took photos. I hope you enjoy them.
We walked around the pond and from a wooded hillside caught this view of some very mushy-looking landscape.
If I followed my cousin’s explanation, a big chunk of this duckweed-covered pond is on The 40, and some is on neighboring land. It looked like a great place to put in a canoe and paddle around.
My cousin planted patches of corn in a corner of The 40. When it was spent, he planted turnips for deer to munch. I enjoyed the visual textures.
While my uncle planted a flower garden that included a whole bunch of equinacea, my cousin has been acquiring native prairie grasses and planting them on The 40. He believes he has varieties that are native to Minnesota; a nice touch considering that state-run reclamation projects often work with prairie grasses from other states.
The sumac berry clusters on The 40 tended to hang down and my cousin called them poison sumac. I’m certain these were staghorn sumac—you can harvest the berries, cook them in water, add sugar, and drink the resultant pink liquid as a hot or cold drink. It seemed odd they were too lazy to hold their berry clusters upright, but perhaps that’s a regional variant. I wouldn’t recognize poison sumac if I saw it, but Googling it convinced me that the sumac on The 40 is edible, not poisonous.
At one of my stops during the trip (not at The 40), I found a turtle pond (as opposed to a duck pond). The logs were lined with turtles, but most slipped into the water while I was getting my camera into position.
If you’re a farm stand, produce market, or garden center in the northeast, you sell chrysanthemums in autumn… which begins, apparently, during the last month of summer.
On my many forays to Ithaca over the past three years, I noticed and grew fond of a farm market just northeast of the city. The Bigsby Market is on route 13 and 366 just beyond where the two converge on the way to Dryden.
When I’m in Ithaca, I’m not about to invest in large amounts of produce, but I still stop to enjoy the displays and I try to buy something I can use. I’ve chatted with various employees there, and learned that some of the produce they sell comes from central Pennsylvania. In fact, they often have produce purchased from the Buffalo Valley Produce Auction which is about eight miles from my house.
I was in Ithaca two weeks ago, and I stopped at Bigsby Market late in the day. The market was decked out for autumn, and the late-day/late-summer sunlight provided the kind of illumination that excites all photographers.
I bought one delicious, perfectly ripe Bartlett pear, and I captured a whole bunch of photos from which I chose a handful of favorites to include in this post. It seriously looked like autumn at Ithaca’s Bigsby Market. Please have a look.
Employees at the Bigsby Market stack pumpkins and winter squashes to make small towers. Some of the squashes avoid the fate and end up in heaps or bins.
Sometimes things just fall into line. The Bigsby Market had an astonishing amount of produce; this is a modest sampling.
Sweet peppers at The Bigsby Market shown in the evening sunlight. It won’t be long before local growers no longer have fresh produce to offer. At least for a little while, we can enjoy the colors and textures of autumn’s harvest.
I spent a dollar to buy two Hen and Chicks plants at a yard sale in autumn. With snow predicted, I “heeled in” the plants in my vegetable bed. When the snow finally melted in March, I found this little family looking healthy and ready for action. Eventually, these will find a home in a rock garden I plan to build where the compost heap now rests.
I’ve been a sucker for succulents since I grew a jungle in my bedroom during my high school years. So, despite my garden’s intense focus on food plants, I’ve mused for a long time about establishing a succulent garden in my yard. Near the end of last year, I was working specifically toward that end: I had packed several carloads of rocks back from my brother’s farm to use in building a rock garden that would host a variety of cold-hardy succulents.
One afternoon in late autumn, I stopped at a yard sale. There, the only items that interested me were foam coffee cups planted with Hens and Chicks. Each cup had a price of fifty cents—lower than I’ve seen nursery plants discounted at the end of the season. I bought two. I hope my experiences with them so far inspire you.
No Garden Yet
By the time it got too cold to garden, I’d not yet prepared my new planting bed. I had enough rocks stacked on the driveway, but I needed to move the compost heap and it became too unpleasant outside for me to feel motivated.
To emphasize the certainty that you can grow Hens and Chicks, I captured this photo of a border along a sidewalk in Toronto. Toronto is well north of me and they experienced as punishing a winter as ours. However, by early March, snow had melted off and revealed this healthy-looking planting bed. Hens and Chicks have crowded the bed enough that it could benefit from thinning—a procedure the harsh winter failed to accomplish.
I didn’t want my Hens and Chicks—along with several other succulents I’d acquired—to spend winter outdoors in pots. And, there was no way I’d try to keep them growing indoors under lights. So, I decided to “heel in” the plants at one end of the vegetable bed.
Heeling in means planting a seedling poorly; without commitment. You can dig a shallow hole or find a bare patch of soil, lay the roots of the plant against the soil, and then cover the roots with more soil. I’ve seen young fruit trees heeled in while they were all but lying flat on the ground.
In any case, I heeled in the Hen and Chicks plants along with close to a dozen other succulents I’d bought at a garden center at “we don’t want these anymore” prices. Winter happened.
It was an impressive winter! We had more than a month where temperatures never rose out of the teens, and we had many, many days near and below zero. We also had snow, which is a blessing. Snow covered the garden continuously for several months and provided some relief from the cold for perennials.
A rule of thumb for central Pennsylvania is to plant peas on St Patrick’s Day. Usually by mid-February daffodils are at least sprouting and by March warm days beckon us to garden. This year St Patrick’s Day came and went and we got to April 1st before there was any real beckoning.
A chick must have broken off one of the potted plants when I heeled it in last autumn. Under snow at seriously frigid temperatures, the little plant managed to drop roots into the soil. It looked perfect when the snow melted, and it will look just fine in its new home when I get the rock garden assembled.
But look at the photos! Hens and Chicks are very well, thank you. The two plants I heeled in are healthy and ready to move. What’s more, a small “chick” that must have broken off last fall had rooted where it lay despite the cold and snow!
To reinforce the point, I’ve included a photo of a border along a yard in Toronto. I visited Toronto in early March—at least one hardiness zone farther north than central PA. In the city, snow had melted, and that dense growth of Hens and Chicks made a dramatic in-your-face, winter, statement.
If you have any doubts about succeeding with gardening, try growing a Hen and Chicks plant. If a small piece of this plant can break off and root itself during a miserably cold winter, I feel safe to suggest: you can grow that!
Follow this link for more You Can Grow That posts.
The view in early June shows onions holding their own between closely-spaced tomatoes and broccoli (left). However, even at this point, the lower parts of the onion stalks spend most of the day in shade. The stalks are the leaves, and they obviously require full sun all day for best production. (Ignore the onions on the right; they are last season’s victims of the Lost Onions method of kitchen gardening.)
My small kitchen garden is a laboratory that provides evidence each year supporting well-accepted theories of kitchen gardening. It also suggests that many alleged “best practices” are, at best, pretty good practices. This season, my success with crowding tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower reinforced my growing belief in cramming together vegetable plants to maximize your harvest. Eventually, I suppose I’ll have to think up a cutesy name for this approach so it can take its place next to “square foot gardening,” “lasagna gardening,” “straw-bale gardening,” “vertical gardening,” and “no-dig gardening,” among others.
The Lost Onion Gardening Method
Last season, I planted several rows of tomatoes in which I left only 12 inches from one plant to the next. Until late blight struck, the plants thrived. So, in the interest of growing more produce in the same space, this season I went a step further: I set plants a foot apart within their rows. I also laid out rows very close together.
Here’s a map of my small kitchen garden’s main bed in 2010. I added details only in the section I’ve described in the main article: Tomatoes, onions, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower (labeled as broccoli). The grid represents one-foot squares, with the planting bed being 14’ deep and 28’ long. When you plant this tightly, you don’t walk in your vegetable garden, you wade in it.
I left just 18 inches from one row of tomatoes to another. When that looked “airy” I planted a second pair of rows with only a one-foot gap. My rationale for putting two rows of tomato plants just one foot apart was that I’d be able to reach and manage both rows of plants from one side.
18 inches from one of the tomato rows, I planted a double row of onion sets: white and purple. 18 inches from there, I planted a zig-zag row of broccoli plants, making the broccoli row itself very crowded. The line drawing shows this section of my small kitchen garden with tomatoes on the right, then onions (with cabbage at the bottom), and then broccoli and cauliflower.
I was very happy with this layout with one exception: I lost my onions.
How my Garden Grew
After several hard frosts, I peeled back the dried up tomato plants and ripped out small broccoli trees. There, right where I’d planted sets in the spring, were young onion sprouts. A few onions are in good enough shape that I can use the bulbs. The others’ stalks will substitute as spring onions in my Chinese stir fry dishes.
Technically, I didn’t so much lose my onions as I lost access to them. The tomatoes grew like champs, eventually extending four feet beyond the tops of their 7 foot supports. The broccoli also outgrew the onions; by season’s end one broccoli plant was eight feet tall!
The onions? They kept pace with the tomatoes and broccoli for a while, but sadly, onions grow to about 20 inches. So, the season wasn’t far along before the onions were in complete shade.
Consider the onion: They have tall, slender, spiky leaves that seem well-adapted for survival in very sunny climates. They have none of those thin, flimsy leaves typical of annuals that can’t survive extreme summer heat.
Heavily shaded, only a few of the onions produced flowers. But by the time the tops should have matured and started falling over under their own weight, the tomato and broccoli plants had formed a canopy over them; I could barely wiggle between the plants to do maintenance, and no way was I able to bend down to the onions without displacing tomatoes or broccoli. I’d lost my onions.
Mid autumn is a tad late in the year to pull your first onions but these are my first. There may yet be another dozen golf-ball-sized wonders ready to harvest from my small kitchen garden.
In early November, I dismantled the tomato trellises, pulled the spent plants, and ripped out the broccoli trees. As I pulled back the weeds, lo-and-behold: there were young onion tops! These were a large onion variety, but the biggest ones in my garden are the size of golf balls. In many cases, the onion bulbs are too ratty to eat. However, the tops are tender enough to use as spring onions.
So, despite the abuse I’ve given these plants, they have forgiven me and provided some flavor to my life and my cooking. They have also taught me that onions will not tolerate crowding if it covers them in shade. When I plant onion sets next spring, they will have the front row of southern exposure… or there will be a generous three foot gap on each side of the onion bed to assure a sunny disposition.
I had a Christmas cactus when I was a kid, and it never produced a blossom. The one in this photo started as a four-segment branch from my daughter’s plant just two years ago. It blossomed that first autumn, and it blossomed more last November. It’s about to put on a show unlike any I’ve seen a Christmas Cactus produce. The secret, I think, is to make sure the plant knows summer has ended; apparently, cooler days encourage the plant to blossom.
Though Your Small Kitchen Garden blog has been catching up with a backlog of posts that didn’t get written during the growing season, a few things have come up recently and I felt like sharing them.
Christmas Cactus Knows it’s Cold
It has nothing to do with kitchen gardening, but I’ve gotten a little excited about my Christmas cactus. This started two winters ago as three or four leaves broken off of my daughter’s plant. Even in its first year in my care the plant flowered, and last autumn it produced a couple of blossoms. This month the plant has produced several dozen buds– I’m told in response to the lowering temperature. It’s about to put on quite a show!
Do you have a Christmas cactus that never seems to blossom? Move it near a window—especially one in a room that you don’t heat thoroughly in winter. The plant responds to cooler days and nights by producing buds.
Container Gardening Lima Beans
A pair of lima bean pods hangs in front of a baluster below the handrail on my deck. Recently I wrote a guest post for a friend about growing lima beans in containers.
I grew lima beans on my deck this summer. I’d never before grown lima beans, and I was quite pleased with the experience. What’s more, I had the pleasure of being a guest blogger for my friend Kerry Michaels over at About.com’s Container Gardening where I explained how I set up my planter and how it worked out. Please have a look. While you’re at it, poke around a bit. Kerry writes about growing stuff in containers which is small-space gardening at its extreme.
The Final Harvest from my Small Kitchen Garden
One especially poignant task for me lately was spending a half hour harvesting the last of everything that looked edible in my small kitchen garden. We’ve had several frosts, one of them heavy enough to kill off the tomato, pepper, and winter squash plants. Still, fruits have held on and continued to ripen. But with November looming large, there was growing danger that we’d have cold enough to freeze the produce.
Most of what you see in my “final harvest” photo is peppers, but there are decent layers of green and semi-ripe tomatoes beneath them. I haven’t decided what to do with any of these, but if I don’t decide soon, enzymes will do the job for me and I’ll be adding the lot to my compost heap.
If I get myself in gear, I’ll preserve the season’s last chili peppers by canning, freezing, or dehydrating them. The semi-ripe tomatoes will finish ripening and end up in pasta sauce or curry, and the green tomatoes will end up as green tomato mincemeat for pies.
My gardening is far from finished. I’m still setting perennial herbs into a planting bed I created this summer, and I need to clean up my vegetable beds. There are trellises and stakes that I’d like to move into the garden shed before snow falls. Sadly, facing these tasks emphasizes for me just how much I despise yard work. I’m a kitchen gardener because my small kitchen garden produces better vegetables than I can buy anywhere… and because for an initial investment of about $30 each season, I manage to grow several hundred dollars worth of fruits and vegetables.
By October, my excitement for gardening has worn away and I’m ready to get on with winter. Fortunately, winter recharges me and I emerge from it full of energy and enthusiasm for the next season’s kitchen garden.