Good morning gardening friends. The end of October held a blustery wet Autumn storm on Samhain/Halloween weekend for those of us in Portland. What a dramatic seasonal shift. Whoosh, in blew November with a vengeance. Rain, rain, I love the rain! Sunny and 55, I love it too! I enjoy the variation and surprise Autumn brings in Portland. My blissful work as a gardener and horticultural therapist keeps me so joyfully in tune with the natural seasons.
Up until that October 30th storm temperatures continued to be uncharacteristically mild and sunny in Portland, and many people opted to keep their tomato plants in the ground longer than usual. By now hopefully you have harvested all your green tomatoes and pulled up all of your tomato plants for the compost bin. Though we haven’t yet experienced a frost, night temperatures are averaging in the mid 40s, day lengths have shortened, and the sun is positioned farther away. All of this means tomatoes will no longer grow or ripen outdoors.
This year I was able to freeze 10 quarts of slow-roasted tomato sauce from my small garden. What a gift! A few weeks ago I brought in the last of the green tomatoes from a garden I tend, about 30! They are ripening nicely on my kitchen counter and I am anticipating a pot of delicious creamy tomato soup this month. One last meal of fried green tomatoes is also in order before the long months of winter. Our epic tomato season has come to a triumphant close.
In addition to tomatoes, by now you will also need to have harvested, pulled out and composted your other heat-loving summer crops: basil, beans, cucumber, eggplant, peppers, summer squash, and zucchini. November is also too late to plant any other crops for a winter harvest. We can start planting veggies again in late February. Though, you do still have time in November to plant garlic for a harvest next summer. Here is some of my garlic I planted in October poking up from the cool soil.
Much of my herb garden is going to sleep for the winter. Several evergreen herb standbys like rosemary, sage, thyme, and winter savory will provide me with leaves through winter. The delicate heat-loving annual herbs like basil are wrapping up their growing season. With my ample autumn harvest of basil I froze a good stash for winter cooking. I rinse the leaves, pulse them in the food processor, fill an ice cube tray, and freeze. Once frozen, I store the basil cubes in a zip-lock freezer bag for the winter. Basil cubes are an absolutely delectable addition to winter minestrone soup, marinara sauce, and an easy fragrant pesto! In autumn, you can also whip up a batch of summer pesto to freeze by eliminating the parmesan cheese, the cheese just doesn’t freeze well.
Last Friday was an exquisite sunshiny 60 degrees and I jumped at the opportunity to do some fall clean up in my own garden. I rake leaves off the garden paths and our deck, but leave them in the perennial beds. They are excellent organic matter and make a warm winter mulch for herbaceous perennials. Our three large Japanese maples are beginning to turn a vibrant golden orange to rusty red. Every day I love watching the delicate leaves drop softly from the trees. I collect these leaves to press and use for autumn craft projects and in my therapeutic gardening groups.
This was some year for dahlias, in my memory the best ever, and my plants were still blooming full force right up until Halloween. Before frost turns them to mush I pruned their stalks all the way back to the ground. Fading perennials and annuals that have lost their seasonal interest and have been picked clean of seeds by birds were also pruned to the ground.
Spring blooming bulbs are a favorite of mine. The variation of shape, size, color, and fragrance in snow drops, crocus, daffodils, tulips, ranunculus, anemone, checkered lily, miniature iris, and hyacinth continue to dazzle and surprise me every year. This week I planted many bulbs into pots for our deck. I cannot wait for spring to come and see their delightful blooms explode into a riot of color.
In the edible garden I harvested broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, spinach and swiss chard. My fall garden was really plagued with powdery mildew, aphids, and slugs. Rather than continue to fight all these problems throughout autumn and winter, I pulled everything out of the 3 raised beds and planted crimson clover cover crops.
Squirrels are my garden arch nemesis, particularly in the autumn when they are feverishly burying nuts in any patch of bare ground. A raised bed with freshly sown crimson clover seed is like putting out a welcome mat for marauding squirrels. So after planting the seeds I covered the raised beds with frost blanket and used landscape pins to secure it to the wood. Frost blankets are permeable to sunlight and water. Under their protection, the crimson clover can safely germinate and grown to a reasonable size, before I remove them in December. By then hopefully the squirrels have slowed down and a dense mat of lush green crimson clover leaves will deter them from my raised beds.
As the day length shortens, and the garden slows, so does my pace. I am turning inward with more contemplative tasks like meditation and journaling. I am enjoying more time reading, and snuggling under blankets with my family. I am cooking up a daily wave of casseroles, soups, and stews. Gratins, risotto, and the heartier fare of the cooler months dominates my menus. I eat very limited gluten and this autumn I am missing baking muffins and bread. Discovering Pamela’s gluten-free baking mixes, in particular the cornbread and dinner roll mixes has been a life saver! Today I cooked split pea soup with rosemary-thyme dinner rolls. They were so good we couldn’t stop eating them.
I hope you are enjoying all the beauty this wondrous season of autumn brings. Every autumn leaf is a treasure, every day in the garden is a blessed gift!