Leaving Leaves

Yesterday I finally got around to the yard leaf cleanup. I’d been putting it off until the majority of leaves had fallen. Having oak trees around means that’s comparatively late and with a vernal witchhazel that holds its leaves all winter it also means I’m not going to get everything. But no worries! The leaves aren’t really  going anywhere anyway.

Photo Nov 18, 10 17 03 AM

Years ago it occurred to me that I was wasting a LOT of time raking leaves and either putting them on the curb for the city to pick up or shredding them into the compost bins. For the free organic matter I wasn’t sending away I was putting time and effort into speeding up a process that would happen eventually on its own. So I stopped. I only clear them off the paved surfaces and the very small lawn in the back yard. There is no lawn in front. Over winter some of this free, natural, organic mulch tends to shift around and leave bare spots so I like to pack one of the compost bins with dry oak leaves to replenish those areas in spring.

Photo Nov 18, 10 16 56 AM

Because my gardens are all in varying degrees of shade I’ve relied quite a bit on hostas to fill up space. Until I stopped raking I had problems with slugs chewing on the leaves. Conventional wisdom is that getting rid of that organic matter discourages slugs. When I started leaving the leaves the slug damage stopped. I can’t be certain why, but I suspect it’s either that they had more to eat at safe, moist, ground level and left the hostas alone or that this healthier habitat for invertebrates encouraged slug predators that are keeping them in check. In any case, my hostas look great all season.

Habitat Signs

Not only are my plants healthier now, this lazy approach to gardening has helped make it possible to certify the yard as a wildlife habitat and to provide resources for pollinators as well.

Recently I’ve been coming across articles encouraging leaving fallen leaves for wildlife like these from The Xerces Society, The National Wildlife Federation and Habitat Network. How do you handle your autumn leaves? I encourage you to do some reading and, if you’re able, consider leaving them in place. Wildlife and your back will thank you.

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Garlic Planting

Much as I like the idea of late season and even winter gardening, I don’t seem to be able to get the timing right. This year I might have, but I can’t be sure because the lettuce seed that was just fine last spring failed to germinate for my fall planting. At least there is one reliable crop I can put in in the fall and keep my planting skills sharp.

Garlic1

Right around Halloween is the time to plant garlic here. We’ve been getting our seed garlic from a vendor at the farmers market. They’re all hardneck types. The guys we buy from don’t have a huge selection and this year we chose only three—Leningrad, Chengdu and German Porcelain. Interestingly, the bulbs we buy for seed are much smaller than the bulbs we grow out from them. I plant them in a grid I’ve scratched out on the bed and record the varieties on a diagram in my garden notebook so I don’t bother labeling them. According to what I’ve read I’m planting them too close together but we’ve been getting great crops so I’m not going to worry about that.

Garlic2

Now they’ll spend their time growing roots until it’s too cold to grow. I’ve mulched them with the asparagus tops I cut down the same day to keep the soil temperature fluctuations to a minimum and catch snow for additional insulation. Next spring their green leaves will spear up through the ground and I’ll be glad I got one more planting done of something in before winter really hit.

Underground News

Peanuts0

When we were in the garden doing the first big round of cleanup I noticed the peanut plants, one of this year’s garden experiments, were starting to look a little “done.” Yesterday I took up a fork and harvested them all.

Peanuts1

I wasn’t sure what I was going to find so I was pleased to see that each plant had a fair number of fat pods down around their roots.  Peanuts have a fascinating way of flowering and forming their seeds. After the bloom is pollinated it grows a stem that pushes the ovary down into the soil where the pod forms. They seemed to have enough decent soil to grow in above the more clayey layer below and didn’t look distorted at all. The tops, however, were another matter. Some had been chewed completely off by some rabbit or rodent.

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Once I plucked them from the plants and gave them a good washing I ended up with a decent bowlful for our little patch. They do take a lot of space for the amount we got, though. I’m not sure if the spots on the shells are caused by a soil problem, pests or disease. Time to do some research. I also need to find out how to roast them. We’re sure we won’t be making boiled peanuts, a southern treat. Last weekend we were visiting friends in Alabama and tried boiled peanuts for the first time and, while we thought they were edible, didn’t feel a great need to have them again.

OcaOctober

In other underground news, the oca patch seems to have hit its stride and the plants are looking lush and happy. As I mentioned before, they will have only just started forming tubers after the Autumn Equinox. We’ve had some cold nights since then, but no frost yet. Still, I’m keeping them covered with some row cover as insurance. It would be great if we got a harvestable crop from these, but I don’t see growing them again until I’ve got a lot more space to play around with.

Did you try any garden experiments this year? How did they do?

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

A few days ago I picked all of my Bush Delicata squash. They seemed ripe enough and the vine was starting to look a little ragged. It actually did vine more than I expected so I’m wondering if it was true to type. The two I grew last year stayed in compact mounds. Those two plants produced seven squash between them, this year’s single, viney plant made ten. I’m looking forward to having them in soups and curries, stuffing ravioli with them, making enchiladas (no kidding!) and mashing them up to go alongside roasted beasts and fowls. Delicata isn’t my favorite squash. Red Kuri probably holds that honor, or perhaps Buttercup. I grow the Bush Delicata because of my space limitations. Some day I’ll have plenty of room to try all sorts of squashes in my garden. For now I’ll just be picking up different varieties at the Farmers Market to sample.

2014 Squash

Something about harvesting the squash brought home the feeling that the garden season is really coming to an end. I know that I may have another good month of growing time, but my fall planting of peas, broccoli and a variety of lettuces have all failed already and I doubt there’s enough time to start over. Some spinach is coming up slowly. I may winter some of that  over as a spring crop. The arugula is the only thing I planted this fall that is actually doing well. It’ll be delicious tossed on pizza hot out of the oven.

Salsas and Chutney

What I think of as the “high summer crops” are as good as done. The paste and globe tomatoes were ushered out a little early by some wet weather that gave Septoria an edge. The two cherry varieties don’t seem to be as susceptible. I may throw some more of those in the dehydrator. More on that some other time.  The rest were all picked regardless of ripeness and I put up batches of green tomato chutney and salsa, one last red tomato salsa and a second batch of tomatillo salsa—this time without the cloying artificial lime juice. The peppers, which hadn’t produced much to speak of anyway, I gave up on long ago. I really knew things were coming to a close when the tomatillo finally stated to slow down. Man, those things are productive at their peak! All but a few straggling beans that are taking their dear sweet time drying have been picked and shelled—more on that will be coming, too.

So what’s left? There are a few roots in the ground—carrots, beets and turnips. Also, I hope, plugging along out of view are the peanuts, oca and sweet potatoes. It’s at that time of the growing season where the date of the first real frost will make or break their success. As we’re at the equinox, the oca will only just be beginning to form its tubers so I’m set to cover it at a moment’s notice if the forecast is cold. The Brussels sprouts are starting to fill out their mini-cabbagey heads and I’ve picked enough for a little side-dish for two. We’ve got more leeks than we know what to do with. The Malabar spinach is positively rampant, covering its rustic tee-pee. and displaying funky, pink-tipped flower buds. I’ve only eaten it a few time in summer rolls and in a rough approximation of Bachali Kura Pappu with black-eyed peas. I plan to make that again with the proper ingredients now that I’ve finally located an Indian grocery that has curry leaves and the right dal.

Malabar Spinach Buds

The list of tasks yet to complete this year is fairly short. Dead tomatoes, peppers and so on have to be hauled to the community compost heap and all the supports stacked. The above-mentioned underground crops will be pulled or dug . There are a couple buckets of good, composted horse manure I’ll bestow on a lucky bed or two. If my tricky arm feels up to it I’d like to dig some more leaf compost into the rest of the beds. At the very least everything but the garlic bed will be covered with a thick mulch of leaves. Around Halloween I’ll plant the garlic and mulch that with straw so the shoots can poke through easily next spring. Then all that’s left is the planning for next year. That and eating all the produce I’ve squirreled away for the winter.