October Garden Notes: Seeds and Stars and Secrets

We spread the compost last month, and watered well in the spaces we’ve made for fall vegetables. As the soil becomes more moist and friable, the treasures hidden in it sprout; seedlings of kale, tomatoes, basil, squash. The tomatoes and squash are doomed, this late in the season, though they look so fine and healthy; we pull them out to make room for Caraflex cabbages, brussels sprouts, rutabega, little seedlings that Renee has been tending on the porch in the vegetable nursery. The basil we let stay; it grows fast, and that Indian summer might stretch long enough to harvest a batch or two of pesto from the volunteer basil. The kale’s right on time, and it can stay too, tucked in among the brussels sprouts, close cousins that live together just fine. Welcome back, kale. Welcome back,though you never really went away, did you?

The peas are climbing, and forming the first pods of the cool season. We tried for one more crop of bush beans (they grow so fast!) but just couldn’t find a home for them. And really, it would have been silly, since the pole beans are still producing prolifically. It’s good to have recipes like Karla’s Dilly Beans on hand, to deal with the excess. And good to see them on a cheese plate, as the year spools on, further from the season of beans. We’re hoping to have enough for one last crop for a big feast in November; we’ll see how the weather holds. And how those spider mites behave; they have their beady eyes on our bean vines, though for now the beans are winning.

Lettuce, seeded from plants we let flower, pops up in surprising places. Bachelor buttons and scabiosa, too; didn;t they just finish blooming?! Here they are, again, and the striking blue leaves of cerinthe, too, are returning after the hot summer; they prefer the cooler weather. We weed to give those tender leaves a fighting chance, before rains water the weeds and the earth is rife with new weed crops. We are constantly fighting the bindweed, which sprouts anew from every bit of root left in the earth. It’s a constant, low-level pest in the garden here, that really ramps up once the soil is more consistently moist. Fortunately, it’s then that the fragile roots are easiest to pull from the soil, so there’s always a chance we may get on top of the infestation, one day.
demo garden

We make room, too, for bulbs of garlic and shallots. We didn't choose them solely for their names, but we must admit an affection for they way Silverskin "Nootka Rose" slides off the tongue. A long keeper, Ms. Rose is also a wonderful garlic for braiding, with her streaks of mahogany color.  Holland Red shallots, "Round and fat with coppery outer skins"; Dutch Yellow shallots, "Bronze outer skins with creamy yellow flesh...Tender and spicy...mellows when cooked." The trouble with plants that come with packaging is that you can fall in love with the way they sound before you even get them in the ground. This is why I avoid seed catalogs, myself. I'm susceptible to lovely words.

trays of seedlings
Eggplants did well for us this year, finally. We had a lot of insect predation on the eggplants, everything from flea beetles to grasshoppers taking bites out of the leaves, to spider mites on the undersides of the fuzzy leaves. This year we interplanted the eggplant with alyssum, cosmos, and flowering basil, a triple -shot of beneficial insect attractants, and it seems to have worked. The eggplant looks very seasonal, all dark and glossy purple-black, next to a riotous orange cosmos bush, though it may not make it till Halloween. We want the space for lettuce, spinach, broccoli. It's best to get these cool-season crops planted now, in the fall, so that they have some time to grow in the warmth and sun before the long dark of winter. We'll be sad to see the end of that orange cosmos, though. We’re saving seeds of that one…

All the cosmos, in fact, are raining seeds down on the sidewalk; each time we sweep, more fall to take their place. At home up in the woods, I see a lot of hungry birds on the cosmos, but here, perhaps because we are so close to the highway, I see less bird activity on the cosmos. Never one to let a good seed go to waste, I am sprinkling them in places I want to see those cheerful garden faces next year. I will be repaid for my pains in flowers, in the hum of native bees, the gift of old friends that come visiting, year after year, after the rains fall.
This time of year is always a puzzle-when to call it quits for the tomatoes and peppers, the other warm season crops. The peppers, strangely, have developed a nasty crop of leaf-miners, but the fruits are still going strong; when we take them out, we'll wait a bit before planting chard and beets, as it is usually the chenopods that are susceptible to leaf-miner pests. Will that last melon ripen, or should I take it out to turn in new compost? Soft heart that I am, I often let them linger too long, past all hope of ripening. I’m trying to be better about that…hence, the green tomato recipe in this issue of the journal, and the tutorial on drying the harvest. Sometimes, all a situation needs to bring about change is a little redefinition.

In the days and weeks to come, we will be removing the summer crops, and continuing to plant the cool-season crops like lettuce, kale, chard, brocolli and cauliflower, to let them get the last bit of sun and warmth before the long gray season ahead. Mache will come soon, too, for harvest in the late winter and early spring. We’ll seed fava and other cover crops, and bed the areas we are not using down in a thick layer of mulch or straw to slowly break down over the winter. This work has already begun; it's bittersweet, to see the end of such rampant bounty, but there's a satisfaction, too, of completing cycles and circles, feeling the seasons change again.

This may be the season we try out mushrooms in the garden, too; oyster mushrooms and stropharia both seem to show great promise for being grown on straw and woodchips in the garden. As the season progresses and our little corner of the world becomes damp and lush again, we can expect the mycellium to thrive without much additional water. The complex webs that mycellium form are the true fungal organism; the mushrooms that we eat are more like an apple, the fruiting body, the reproductive apparatus of the mushroom. So much goes on beneath the surface in a garden. As with so much of the wide and delicate web that binds all things together, it is often the invisible, hidden forces at work that are the most powerful.

figsHere’s to them, and to changing of the seasons. So many possibilities awaken and senesce, as the earth spins slowly in her starry home, carrying us along for the ride. And what a ride it is, full of seeds and stars and secrets beneath the ground. Hold on, let go, and keep on tending the garden.

Over to You

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