It’s Always a New Beginning for Gardeners.

Thinking about the beautiful creation stories explored in the services of the eve of Rosh Hashanah that our Jewish friends celebrated yesterday reminds me that for the gardener, things are never really at an end.  There’s always something new to begin in the endless cycles of life.  Whether it is Rosh Hashanah or the upcoming Autumn Equinox or any of the lunar celebrations, every culmination or harvest is also a time to begin something new.

The need to keep beginning is especially true for the food gardener, especially if you want to keep eating.  So many foods are dependent on seasons – cool season, warm season.  It may seem with the great ripening of tomatoes that the vegetable garden is complete this year, but if you want to keep eating, you need to keep planting: cool season crops, lettuces, sturdy greens that you can eat on all winter.

Some of the things it is time to begin:

Begin a hoop house or cold frame.
If you haven’t already seeded fall greens or carrots and beets, make haste and do it right away.  They need to grow to a good size before winter, so you can harvest even through the snow.

Begin a leaf pile.
Are you ready for collecting fall leaves and beginning again (or adding to) your leaf mulch pile?  Leaves are going to fall….and if you’re ready, your neighbors will bring you all the leaves you want.  A simple sign in your driveway that says “Bagged Leaves Wanted”  will catch the attention of your neighbors who want an easy way to recycle.  Our neighborhood gets over 2000 bags a year that people drop off.  The first year was only about 300 bags….but each year it has grown till we quit counting after 1000 or so.

Begin to fertilize perennials.
If you fertilize with natural fertilizers like blood and bone meal, now is a good time to begin fertilizing perennials and shrubs.  Natural fertilizers break down slowly so Fall is the best time to put them (and compost) out around your plants so they have time to soak in all winter.  Synthetic fertilizers like Miracle-Gro should wait until Spring because they’d stimulate a growth spurt now when the plants should be shutting down.

Begin to clean up.
Start cleaning up diseased leaves and broken plant debris.  Your plants will be healthier next year.

One thing NOT to begin:  Don’t cut down green growing plants because you’re anxious to put the garden to bed.  Some minor experiments have proven to me, that plants that are allowed to die in place and get cut down in later winter or early spring have a better survival rate than plants that get cut down in Fall.  This is especially true for Agastache one gardener I know discovered.

Begin to plant a TREE!
A REALLY IMPORTANT THING TO BEGIN NOW:  Plant a tree.  There are often healthy trees on deep discounts at garden centers.  The best time to begin a tree in your garden is always RIGHT NOW.

Apple Windfall

by Sandy Swegel

While I continue to have a good supply of huge zucchini from the four zucchini plants my neighbor is growing, the bounty and surplus this year is from apples.  Talk about a windfall.  Day after day there are dozens of apples that fall on the ground and they are starting to taste pretty good.  The first small immature apples aren’t really good for much besides the compost pile.  And the apples on the tree shouldn’t be picked until they’ve been sweetened by Fall frosts.  But the ones that nature is lobbing (wind, gravity, squirrels) on the ground every day are a true gift from above…if you process them every day.

The problem with a windfall is that the apples aren’t perfect, so you can’t just put them on the counter or in the refrigerator to use later.  These apples have split open when they hit the hard ground.  Or greedy squirrels ate one or two little mouthfuls before throwing them to the ground. Wasps are feeding on the juicy parts. Or, ickiest, codling worms ate through part of the apple leaving their brown crusty frass. Occasionally, there’s even still a codling worm in the apple.

One bad apple does spoil the batch.  One rotting place on an apple will soon spread to even perfect apples…so you have to keep processing the apples.

Here’s what I do:  I hold a formal apple triage whenever I have time.  Perfect apples without splits or bad spots get spread on a counter in the cool basement or in the refrigerator.  With a little humidity (a root cellar and a box of wet sand are traditional) the apples will last through late winter.

Not perfect but pretty good apples can be:

1. Eaten on the spot. Yum.
2. Have the bad spots cut out and made into sauce, cobbler or juice.
3. Pressed into cider.  Some people in town here had a big apple pressing last year where everyone brought apples and they pressed them all together.  That’s when I learned part of the rich flavor of apple cider comes from all the bad parts and cyanide seeds and occasional worms being pressed together with all the good apples.  The final cider is strained so there’s no chance of getting anything visible in your cider…

When I’m in a hurry and just want the apples not to go bad, I make the world’s simplest cider in small batches in my mighty Vitamixer.

I wash the apples.  I quarter them and remove the disgusting and rotten parts.  I start with one cup of water in the Vitamix and fill the rest of the Vitamix to the top with apple parts.  I pulverize the whole container…having to use the plunger to keep the process started.  Then, the secret to this quickie cider is to pour the entire blender-full through a sprouting bag into a bowl.  Actually, I’m too cheap to use the sprouting bag and I buy the five-gallon paint straining bag from the hardware store.  Then with clean hands, you squeeze the bag, not too unlike milking a cow, until all the juice flows out. Repeat.  The pulp goes to the chickens or earthworms. The juice is good to drink or freeze or even let ferment if you want some old-fashioned hard cider.

Now if only I could develop a taste for zucchini juice, I’d have both abundances of food taken care of.

Vitamix recipes