Garden Notes September: Coriander and Fog

Imperceptibly, the season shifts. The cilantro bolted to seed, and we let it happen; time now to hang the stalks with their round, striped seeds upside down to dry. The transition from cilantro to coriander is subtle as the shift in seasons, but noticable in its own way. The slant of light in the long evening. A spicy green note on the tongue, the way the foliage divides into fernlike fronds, and seeds ripen green to lighter tan. The light (and the seeds) conjure toastiness, a browning, a warming, releasing the dry, caramel flavors of fall. Oh, don’t worry, sun lovers, there’s a solid month, or maybe two, left, of tomatoes and melons and peppers, beneath the brilliant glare of our nearest star. And hang tight, you mushroom hunters. There’s a ways until rain, yet…a ways, indeed. Hold the thought of rain in your mind, a cool fog blanket, to tide you through.

coriander seed
The garden itself is shifting shape, too. The massive cardoon that has towered over the far end of our demo garden has finished its bloom, and it was sawed it down, one too-warm afternoon. The cardoon can be super-seedy, spreading those thistle-seeds far and wide; we don’t need any more cardoons, thank you very much, so we cut it down before the seed matured. The peppers beneath it can grow a little faster, now, with more sun.

cardoon seed pods
The clouds of scabiosa, too, that have filled the gardens in-between spaces were removed, too, or at least most of them were. Early in the spring, when we were first planting summer veggies, we could not bear to remove the small seedlings that sprouted everywhere between the planting areas. Now they’ve had their time. We left plenty to set seed for next year, but sometimes a plant can be TOO successful for a space. If we let all this years’ younguns go to seed, we’d have a garden of nothing but scabiosa. And cardoon. Which, although lovely, would not be the best use of space. We lay the dry stalks down in places we’d like scabiosa to seed next year, a dual mulch and sowing. The seeds will slowly finish ripening and drop onto the dry earth, and the stalks will slowly break down and become compost. When rain soothes the ground again, the seeds will awaken, and begin the cycle again.

The scabiosa has been holding space for fall crops. Now that the bulk of the scabiosa is out, spaces have opened up for the fall vegetables. We planned it that way, don’t you know. Otherwise, this time of year is hard, to find space to slip the fall veg into, while summer crops are still in full effect.The soil has grown pretty dry, though, where the scabiosa ran wild. Densely seeded, and established early in the year, the flowers needed no additional moisture to thrive. They’ve left behind a dry, hard soil, though, that needs rehabilitation. The first step was to pull the scabiosa, and now we water it deeply, bring compost to nourish the soil in the in-between places, where we could not work in the early spring because of all the flower seedlings. We compost all of the spent flower heads and plant trimmings from the nursery in 2 large wire bins near the highway; no food scraps, just vegetation, so the rats stay away. Last winter, we threw a bunch of Christmas tree trimmings on the bottom of the pile, to trap airspace and get the compost started off. It was a reminder of how time flies, to find those sturdy conifer needles at the bottom of the pile. A seasonal method of tracking time; the next pile we’ll empty will be in springtime, and lined with grape on the bottom. One season feeds another, in so many ways. We plant broccolli, kale, arugula, peas in the fluffy compost, once it is returned to field capacity. Renee starts Caraflex cabbages, pointed like witches hats, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, from seed, and they look like they will be ready to plant before the month is out.

compost bins
The Trombucino squash are HUGE this year, as long as arms, if we let them get that far, though not as thick. Such a vigorous climber, too, it has completely overwhelmed the scarlet runner beans that were intended to share the teepee with them. It’s hard to mind. We’ll give the runners their own teepee next year; the thought of a scarlet flower pyramid in full bloom is one to look forward to.

trombocino squash
Looking forward, looking back. It’s been quite a year. And no, it isn’t over yet (we’ve established this). Yet somehow fall always carries a whisper of reflection, even as time seems to quicken and the harvest keeps coming. Like a thin wisp of fog that trails through the redwoods, dissolving into clear blue morning.

The garden is beautiful in this light. The pantry has room for a few more jars. New roots are taking hold in the earth, as the old ones relax their grip, and the earth spins on, carrying us with it, into the end of one season, and the beginning, eventually, of another.

Another morning in the garden. The beans are steady givers, long claws of green and yellow and spotted and purple beans on tall vines, and the flat curved pods of romanos hiding beneath the foliage of the bush beans, a sudden bounty in the way of bush beans, all at once to fill a basket. They make their way into quarts and pints, a picking at a time, to ferment, or we save them up for a water bath canning project. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to eat them fresh, too, in the best bean salads of the year, all fresh herbs and bright beans, tarragon and dill and mint and basil and whatever else looks best.

climbing beansSungold tomatoes like golden marbles, and the larger tomatoes ripen steadily too, the clean lines of red slicers, the lumpy, beautiful heirlooms. An experiment went well; the tiny (tiny!) Sweet Pea Currant tomato variety is a dainty but vigorous plant that yields clusters of the tiniest (tiniest!) red tomatoes on graceful foliage. It makes the Sungolds look large, but they’ve been a perfect bite-sized pop in salads, fresh salsas, and side dishes all season long.

cherry tomatoes
Parsley and cilantro actually like the cool season to grow in, though we often plant them in the summer. Now’s a perfect time to harvest the parsley, if it hasn’t already gone to seed, and make tabouleh, perhaps. We tucked a few more plants of both parsley and cilantro, keep us in chimichurri late into the fall. Whatever is the weather going to do?!

Over to You

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