Autumn Harvest Time!
Autumn is one of the finest times of the year to be a gardener. Just standing out of doors in the autumn is enough to put a spring back into your step, no matter what else is going on in your life. The once thick pliant leaves, now crispy and crunchy beneath your feet, have turned from the cool and soft greens you so loved to the brilliant reds, oranges and yellows that now dominate both the scenery and your list of favorite things. And the garden is bursting with flavor and color.
At first glance it might seem as though the herb gardens have seen better days. They now stand still as statues, dry and heavy with seedpods, so unlike the give and take of the swaying dance they enjoyed throughout the summer. But at second glance, one is reminded that the dance they are now performing is the dance of giving; not of giving up or giving in, but simply offering. Take what is offered. Gather herb plants by cutting them off about an inch or so from the base, in bundles of about 10. Tie the bundles together with a rubber band. Hang the bundle inside a brown paper bag that has holes punched into it. (The holes allow air to enter but not much light, and the bag will catch any seeds that fall as they dry.) This is good for herbs such as dill and coriander whose seeds are good in culinary dishes. Other seeds can be gathered to spread in the garden next year. Another easy method is to simply shake the herbs and allow the seeds to fall randomly into the garden. Cut all herbal plants back. This will remove foliage that would have died naturally over the winter months and give you a head start on cleanup in the spring. In cold areas, rosemary plants should be dug up and brought inside for the winter.
Vegetable Garden Bounty
As anyone lucky enough to have a backyard vegetable garden can attest: Harvest time is a time of joy. Pumpkins, squashes, green peppers, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, onions and cabbage turn the garden into a virtual paradise of treasures. Most vegetables should be harvested before the first frost. If a mild frost is eminent, covering tender young vegetables with burlap bags or bushel baskets will help. (Do not attempt to cover the plants with plastic bags as they do not provide enough protection.) Harvest time for each individual vegetable may differ, however, so it's important to keep an eye on the garden at all times. For instance, green peppers will turn red or orange if they remain on the plant overlong. Thankfully this is one vegetable that gets sweeter the longer it remains on the vine. Onions, on the other hand, should be harvested when the onion tops die back, and tomatoes should be harvested as soon as they ripen. Cold weather lovers such as Brussels sprouts, pumpkins and winter squashes won't be bothered by a few mild frosts. These vegetables may remain in the garden well into October. Other vegetables will die back immediately when frost hits them. (On occasion, you can save a plant that has been hit with frost by spraying it down with water before the sun shines on it.) If sunflowers are to be used for the birds, leave the sunflower heads on the stem as natural bird feeders for the winter months. If you plan on harvesting the seeds for your own eating pleasure, remove the flower heads and allow the seeds to continue drying in a cool dark area free of pests. Seeds can be removed easily once the sunflower head dries sufficiently.
Bringing House Plants Back Indoors
Any house plants that have summered out of doors should be inspected for pests and disease before theyre brought back indoors. Insects such as spiders, spider mites, aphids and gnats tend to cling to the underside of leaves and along the stems, while other bugs such as earwigs may be lurking just beneath the soil or in the cracks between the pot and the soil. If possible, replant house plants rather than bring the same dirt indoors. If repotting is impossible, at least spray the plant down with the hose, and wash the leaves with a clean soft cloth and water. This will also help clear each leaf off so inspection will go more smoothly. Poinsettias and Christmas cactus that have vacationed out of doors will require some special attention now that they're back indoors. Because you'll want both to bloom in time for the holiday it's important that they are put into a dormant state from October to December. An easy way to do this is to place a cardboard box over the plant from dinner time every night until breakfast every morning. With approximately 14 hours of darkness each day, the plants will begin to set flower buds in time for showy holiday blossoms.