Garden Notes: Taking the long view

Autumn is the time for renewal in the garden.


I like the thought, “The wind is the forest’s pruner.”

The piles of leaves, twigs, and branches raining down in these gales of wind are assets to bank in compost bins, tumblers, piles, and heaps, for the process of transformation and renewal.

We reap what we sow, and hope it is enough. Autumn feels pensive, with intimations of mortality — when everything yields to decay, to gravity, and falls to earth. Take the long view: See autumn as the vestibule of new life and renewal, a beacon of hope.

The idea that the garden year starts anew in autumn may seem contradictory, but is time-tested. Autumn is when the foundation is laid for the next garden: mulching, soil improvement, pruning and trimming, tidying and organizing, composting. All are hopeful components in the care of it.

Clean up livestock enclosures and coops to prepare for winter, when animals need to spend more time “cooped up” in them. This yields bioactively rich material, good for inoculating compost piles.

Winter-readiness basics: replacing bedding, wiping down perches and nesting boxes with diatomaceous earth, vinegar, or proprietary products for mites and lice, and cobwebbing the corners. Scarlet Blair’s worming recipe for poultry makes a repeat appearance here:

7 Tbsp. red pepper; 1 head garlic; 1 lb. pumpkin seeds. Mix in food processor with dry oats. Add to feed hoppers.

Compost it all

I had originally noticed two compost tumblers in the garden of Charles Cresson, a well-known plantsman and gardener in Swarthmore, Pa., and decided, with the rodent, skunk, and raccoon presence here, that this system would work for me too. (As written in the March 3, 2005, Garden Notes.)

Fifteen-plus years and much compost later, the tumblers needed rehabbing, due to rusting of some metal parts. I sourced replacement kits directly from ComposTumbler, now owned by Mantis. My husband and nephew did the refitting, and the tumblers are as good as new.

The rehabbed tumblers (each holds 22 cubic feet) accept the biomass I stuff in them. There for the harvesting is an easily collected fall bounty of lawn rakings, vegetable and perennial garden debris, kitchen waste, and sticks and twigs, with more to come. Especially valuable ingredients are poultry manure, small-size branches and twigs, and byproducts of fishing and scalloping, such as “racks” and guts.

Multiple sources inform about soil microbiology and composition. I encourage all gardeners to do their own reading and research with books such as “Teaming With Microbes” by Jeff Loewenfels and Wayne Lewis, and online resources.

Roxanne Kapitan has graciously agreed to share information from her seminars on composting and regenerative gardening. You can access some of the information here:

Island soils, our little sandpile, are almost invariably mostly mineral, and humus-poor: Everyone growing anything anywhere here needs humus. Now we also have increasingly prevalent drought and heat conditions during the growing season. The products of reducing to compost are humus and its constituents, the bioactive and hydroscopic components of soil.

The transformative power of the soil comes from organic matter, which is only a small percentage, maybe about 5 percent, of its overall composition, but which dictates soil health and all that follows. In this way, eventually we harvest what we have previously sown.

Deer behavior

Bow season initiates Massachusetts’s deer hunting, and is underway. Deer are now in rut, the mating season, with much movement as bucks chase does. The past couple of weeks have presented the gruesome sight of several broken deer carcasses by the roadside. Exercise caution while driving around the Island, especially at dusk and dawn, but also in broad daylight.

Tree rubbing happens as bucks attempt to scrape the velvet from their new sets of antlers, preferring trunks of two- to three-inch saplings to help accomplish this. The rubbing may be enough to girdle the tree and cause its death. Burlap, wire, or plastic are all useful protection. Trees rubbed this way once may be returned to repeatedly.

Garlic timing

Many gardeners are planting their 2021 garlic crop now; however, I delay planting mine until cold weather, closer to Thanksgiving. My objective is for plants to make roots, but only tiny sprouts, not much more, before the ground freezes. If planted too early, too much tender top growth happens before winter.

Top growth suffers more damage over winter from freezing and thawing. This is actually a setback for the growing bulb, as each leaf leads to a clove. (See

Some companion planting sources advise against planting garlic near asparagus, peas, beans, sage, parsley, and strawberries, because it will stunt their growth. This is a suggestion only: Many gardens are not large enough to offer alternatives.

In the garden

Tomatoes ripen on the counter if picked when just showing color. If frost threatens, bring all indoors, and whole vines may be hung in a shed to ripen green fruit.

Good plants become shared plants. So it is with the lovely lavender blue plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’ a friend shared with me. I grew it, I propagated from it, I too shared it. I used it outside, in containers; with heavy deer pressure they never touched it, unlike the geraniums and even New Guinea impatiens.
However, I became discouraged about the state of the stock plants during this past summer; they looked simply awful — deathly, in fact — and contacted the friend to commiserate about it. “It likes the fall,” came the answer. And going by the photo, indeed it does. (See

I never did get to see any infant painted turtles emerging from the two spots outside my garden fence where I saw a female, or maybe two different ones, laying eggs last summer. I hope they hatched successfully, and I simply missed the event. These woodlands are home to a variety of wildlife, and the vernal pools and damp spots make good turtle habitat.