Garden Notes: Fall finish-up

Remember to put back into the soil as much as you took away.

"Garnet Treasure," a zinnia hybrid. — Susan Safford

The seasons come and go in their sequence, and now it is autumn. Gardening too is a series of sequences, both gardening for ornament and gardening for food, through our circle around the sun. The challenge is to keep the show, or the crops, happening.

Just as every garden is unique and has individual characteristics, so do the unique and individual gardeners who tend them. But please, everyone, think how to put back into the soil what you have removed. Harvest the leaves, debris, and material that your little spot of heaven on earth has produced for compost, because now, the garden year begins anew.

Looking forward

I cleared out the previous strawberry bed and dug the ‘Satina’ potatoes grown adjacent to it. The potatoes are an acceptable size, although not large due to drought, but I was pleased they are smooth with no sign of scab. This section is where I plan to plant overwintering garlic and shallots.

To prep it I added all the finely crushed eggshells I save, scattered organic, low-number soil food, and sowed a short-term buckwheat cover crop over all, lightly cultivated in. The buckwheat should grow for a little over a month (to be killed before the next crop).

Then, I intend to screen compost over the section, cover everything with straw, and plant the seed garlic and shallots rows, around Thanksgiving. That’s my plan, anyhow.

Looking back

Garden writers receive, for trialing, numerous free seeds, plants, and other offers. A friend grew and shared tomato plants from free All America Selections seeds I had been given. Especially satisfying are ‘Mountain Rouge’ and ‘Firefly.’ An All America Selection for 2019, indeterminate, disease-resistant plants of ‘Mountain Rouge’ are still yielding as we go into autumn: large pink-red fruit that tastes to me the way I like a slicing and salad tomato to taste.

‘Firefly’ is a pale, yellow to creamy-white cherry tomato, again growing on indeterminate vines that continue to put out flowers and trusses of fruit. The sweet fruits crack, as do many other cherry tomatoes; but I do like ‘Firefly.’

I would not repeat-grow ‘Red Torch’ or ‘Shimmer,’ but for the larger truck or market garden, the streaked, two-bite, pointy fruits have great eye appeal. The skins are tough, therefore supposedly crack-resistant, and would stand up well to handling.

I grew kale ‘Purple Moon’ from Renee’s Seeds, and shared plants with others. Mine have been beautiful and productive, and appear to have been bothered less by white cabbage butterfly caterpillars than other brassicas in the garden, even though I spray them all equally often with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). The colorful plants contrast beautifully against the many lavender-flowered Verbena bonariensis volunteers growing throughout the rows. The leaves even make good-looking additions to bouquets.

Another freebie standout has been hybrid zinnia ‘Garnet Treasure’ (pictured) from Burpee. The plants are bushy and stocky, making a nice mound in the garden, and have healthy foliage. It is the cut flower, however, that attracts compliments: two and a half to three inches across, and an appealing cherry red, with hints of rose as flowers age. This zinnia is definitely a repeat-grow for me.

A way of bulking out a bouquet and extending just a few stems of cut flowers, such as dahlias, zinnias, roses, sunflowers, or phlox, is by also growing plenty of filler material. Filler flowers include aster spp, baby’s breath, euphorbia, Queen Anne’s lace, and dill seedheads. Native goldenrods and white woodland aster currently in bloom also bulk out a bouquet nicely.

Use it all

Those zucchini — oh boy, do they have a way of camouflaging! Then, astoundingly, the gardener is ambushed by many pounds of giant squash! Up-front or surreptitiously, share them with friends. Or strangers.

Oversize zucchini are good halved, stuffed with savory fillings (think stuffed quahogs); and then baked, toothpicked back together. Slice to serve. Or using a food processor, save the following mixture in the freezer:

Peel and slice over-size zucchini pieces, toss with salt, and then drain in a colander, pat them dry a bit, and then sauté in olive oil, along with sliced onions and plenty of chopped basil. This mixture packs into quart Mermaid Farm yogurt containers for freezing, and is a somewhat tepid, but OK vegetable dish when thawed; but is really useful to bulk out a soup, sauce, or casserole.

The small potatoes that accompany every potato harvest seem like lots of trouble to deal with. Prepare them by soaking in water, draining in a colander, and tossing with kosher salt. Then “scour” the small, salted potatoes by rubbing them back and forth between your palms, and then rinsing.

Food security for the coming winter is a touchy topic, among many others, just now. Channeling our Depression-era parents or grandparents and practicing thrifty respect for all food we have makes sense. The annual figures for discarded or wasted food in the U.S. are eye-opening and tragic. (This is especially so as much is dumped due to expiration of “sell by” dating, not because it is actually inedible.)

A defense against this is to learn to garden and cook smarter and better, as time allows.

Houseplants and dormancy

Not everyone agrees as to the necessity of this. However, to induce reliable flowering later on, place the following plants in basements or closets now to have a period of dormancy: hippeastrum (amaryllis), clivias, and Schlumbergera cacti (holiday cactus spp.). Let these plants go dry gradually, and leave in the dark. Bring out Schlumbergera when tiny buds appear on foliage tips. Bring hippeastrum out in December, and clivias out at the end of January.

Lawn repair

Once drought conditions end, rake and reseed lawns.