After a summer of way too much rain, flooding, road damage where endured damage to their homes and property, the weather seems to have been trying to make it up to us. The days have been warm and very amenable to working outdoors.

The first frost have come and finished off the basil and winter squash plants.

The buttercup squash is very tender to frost and finished for this year.

The kale looks great and will keep growing even in these cool fall temperatures. I keep some kale going and protect it from the deer well into late fall/winter. It is a good feeling to brush away the snow to harvest some fresh vegetables.

The beets are fine with some early frosts. The greens will deteriorate as the cold really sets in so consider harvesting them and freezing them for winter greens or green bombs for your smoothies!

The quiet settles in as the song birds have made their way south and even the crows have grown silent. A time of introspection and rest is on the horizon. I feel a twinge of sadness, excitement for all the things I love about winter and the gently whispering promise of spring.

For more tips on fall garden care, check out these articles:
https://homesteadingwithjoyce.com/harvesting-and-fall-care/
https://homesteadingwithjoyce.com/harvesting-herbs/
https://homesteadingwithjoyce.com/harvesting-herbs-part-2/
https://www.uvm.edu/news/extension/fall-rhubarb-care
https://www.uvm.edu/news/extension/its-time-plant-garlic
https://www.uvm.edu/news/extension/canning-fresh-tomatoes
https://www.wcax.com/2022/11/02/putting-your-fruit-trees-bed-winter/

Picking Herbs

or

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

Preserving Herbs

We've just experienced quite a flood here in Vermont! And still most days have a mild to moderate rain shower. The hours for gardening have been brief for weeks and one must optimize them. After a recent rain shower and more in the forecast, I decided to harvest some garden herbs. As the rain came down, I worked indoors to clean and preserve my harvest.

My little herb garden has grown each year and now contains some hearty perennials -

Horseradish
Horseradish - won't be harvested until late October or early November.
Thyme ready to harvest
Thyme
Sage ready for harvesting
Spearmint ready for harvest.

Harvesting in mid summer is beneficial for several reasons:

  • Many herbs have a spreading habit and can create chaos in the herb garden. Pruning contains plant growth, ensures adequate sunshine, prevents crowding, and allows for adequate air flow. Giving the plants more room helps to prevent bacterial and fungal infections in plants which can occur under crowded conditions.
  • You get fresh herbs to use now!
  • Pruning encourages fresh plant growth and removes areas of insect damage and dead foliage which can become havens for pests and disease.
  • Makes future harvesting easier
  • Delays blooming which degrades the quality of the leaves as the plant redirects all of its energy to making seeds.
  • Pruning off diseased or insect damaged parts helps to determine whether the damage is ongoing.

How to harvest:

Note the branching growth pattern of this mint (Before). A new shoot emerges above each leaf. You want to clip the stem just above a leaf joint - where the leaf meets the stem (During). What remains are two side shoots which will develop rapidly (After). Many herbs grow this way and benefit from this same type of pruning.

Mint Needing Pruning
Spearmint crowding the horseradish showing the need for pruning

This mint is crowding the horseradish and because of all the recent rain, one of my goals with this harvest is to let the sun in and improve airflow around the plants to help them recover from excessive rainfall. The mint will make a lovely tea, fresh or dried for winter use.

Horseradish
Horseradish

The spots on the horseradish leaves look like Alternaria or Cercospora spot, both are common fungal pathogens affecting horseradish and worsened by wet weather. Horseradish will not be harvested until late October or early November.

Basket of Herbs
A basket of thyme harvested in the same way as mint.

Collect your herbs in a towel lined basket or basin and add a fresh towel between types of herbs to make separating them in the kitchen easier. The black spotting on this thyme will be clipped off in the kitchen before washing. As the rain begins to fall, it's time to head to the kitchen to clean and dry the harvest

Now to the kitchen to clean and preserve our herbs!!

Harvesting is such fun after a summer of working on the garden. Here are a few things you may have in your garden and some tips on harvesting them.

Onions - Harvest onions when the tops fall over. Lay them out on newspaper and let the tops dry out. Once the tops and roots are dried up, you can snip them off and store in paper bags with the tops rolled down. Do not store them in plastic.

Garlic - Harvest when 3 leaves have died back. In my garden, that can be as early as mid-July.The thing to know about garlic is that each leaf goes all the way down and covers the whole bulb. If you let too many leaves die back before you harvest, the individual cloves may separate while you are harvesting. Wait longer yet and the cloves will admit moisture and the cloves may mildew. Many people tie groups of bulbs together and hang them. I just spread them out on newspaper. Once the roots, tops and skins are dry, you can cut off the tops and roots and store them in closed paper bags. Save the largest cloves to replant. I find that garlic keeps longer in individual cloves rather than left in bulbs.

Cantaloupe - note how the stem pulled tidily away from  the melon.

Learn how to plant Garlic - the proper time is in the fall !!

Melons - When melons approach ripeness, the stems close to the melon will begin to wither and die. The color of the melon usually lightens somewhat as it ripens. Save the seeds for the chickens!

Zucchini - Can be picked at any time, but have the best flavor and texture when they are small. Larger squash can be stuffed with a variety of rice, meat or bread stuffings. Pick zucchini as regularly as possible. When they have produced mature seeds, they will stop making squash. If this happens, cut the oversized squash from the plant and it will start flowering again in a week or so. Oversized zucchini make great chicken treats. They will drill a hole in the side and devour them seeds and all. 

Do you know why Vermonters always lock their cars when they go to church on Sunday?  Otherwise, they will come back after services  and find their back seat full of zucchini. 

Cabbage are ready to pick when they feel firm when squeezed.

Parsnips gain their sweet flavor from resting over winter in the frozen ground. Boil them until just tender then fry them in butter until  browned for a delicious late winter fresh meal of vegetables.

Cabbage need to be picked before they split open. If you see one begin to split, pick it now. They are ready to pick when they feel tight and firm.

Asparagus begins to grow in the spring and can be harvested until mid July. At that time, allow them to grow into their beautiful fern shape. This replenishes their root system for next year. Always cut below ground level to limit insect and disease damage and to promote new shoot growth. Pick the red berries that grow in fall and let them dry out on a paper towel. Plant them in late winter for spring transplanting. It will take years for them to amount to much, but it is fun to propagate them. After they have made berries, you can cut the stalks down. I like to leave them so the birds can have the berries. And it helps me locate the bed precisely before the plants begin to emerge.

Slip a sharp paring knife below the soil and cut the asparagus stalk at an angle below ground to prevent insect, disease and to encourage regrowth.

Rhubarb  - pick rhubarb all spring until mid july when the plants need to be left to recover and grow. Cut off flower stalks if they emerge as they take a lot of energy from the plant. To harvest rhubarb, hold the stalk low to the ground and pull it up and out to harvest it. This removes the stalk completely without leaving an opening for insects and disease. Cut the leaf off and use it to mulch the plant. Never eat the leaves or feed them to your animals. The green portions of rhubarb are poisonous.

Basil thrives on being harvested. The more you clip, the more it grows. Keep it thinned out to help prevent disease to which it can be prone. Chop basil in the food processor with a little oil if needed. Freeze in trays or small jars and make pesto later or use as fresh.

Tomatoes pick them as they ripen right up until frost is threatened. Then cover the plants to lengthen the harvest or pick them unripe and ripen indoors. If it weren’t for the cold, the tomatoes would keep on fruiting until the end of time. 

 Because the flavor is so much better when they are ripened on the vine, I cover them each night until the temperature begins to threaten to drop to or  below 30 degrees. Or let’s face it, until I get sick of the chore. Then I pick any that are starting to ripen and let them ripen indoors. The green ones will ripen eventually. I have noticed that green tomatoes that have not reached a mature size, however,  will wilt before they ripen and be substandard in every way. Any tomatoes that are damaged will rot before they will ripen. And you’ll have a houseful of fruit flies for your trouble. 

Pull rhubarb stalks from the base of the plant.

Winter Squash - Waiting until after the first frost will help your squashes to harden their skins. Cut the stem off close to the vine. Don’t let them freeze, however, as the frozen spots can spoil. Cut the stems close to or at the vine. With some varieties, you can twist them off. A set of pruners can be helpful. Do not carry squashed by the stem. If it breaks off, the squash will rot there. Let the squashes dry in a cool dark room without a lot of light. Make sure they are on an absorbent surface, such as newspaper or a drop cloth. Leave a few inches between them for good air circulation.  When the stems are all dried up, store them in a cool room out of sunlight. By mid winter, they may begin to have soft spots. Cut them away generously. Roast and scoop the flesh. Or cut into wedges, peel the squash and pack it into freezer boxes. 

Carrots Harvest your carrots all summer long and into the fall and even winter. As a biennial, carrots will grow  a second year, flower and make seeds. If you are going to eat them, dig the remaining ones before they get leaves. The taste and texture will deteriorate rapidly.  Harvest time with carrots is also time to diagnose their growth. Carrots don’t like crowding, either from other carrots or from weeds. 

Carrots affected by crowding

Preparing the garden for winter

Once the harvest is done, there are quite a few fall chores remaining. Here in Vermont, many plants around the homestead are more successful with a little protection. 

Fruit Trees

Joyce Talks with WCAX about fall care of fruit trees

Weeds

If areas of your garden have become overrun with weeds, it is best to either:

Pull and compost them  - this gets any seeds out of the garden 

OR

Mow them down if you just don’t have the time or energy to pull them. The snow and moist soil will decompose the weeds by the time you are ready to prepare your beds in spring.

Weeds left standing will remain intact over winter and be in the way when it is time to prepare beds

Garden Plants 

Some plant material hosts disease over winter. Remove tomato, pepper, potato plants from the garden and place in the compost.

Some garden plants return in the spring. Learn how to care for rhubarb here. 

Soil 

Mulch the soil to prevent erosion and to feed and protect the biological activity in the soil.

Fences

I like to take unneeded fences down as the wire seems to last longer this way. I do keep electric  fence around my buildings and my bee hive to protect from the neighborhood black bear.

Don’t Mow

Some plants bear seed heads which are wonderful food sources for birds over winter. Leave flower gardens and other seeded plants over winter. Cut them down in early spring to allow fresh growth to emerge easily. Bee balm is one of the plants I leave for the birds. 

Leave the leaves

In areas where they are not problematic, leave the leaves on the ground. They provide overwintering places for beneficial insects. Where they are problematic, rake them up or mow them with a bagging mower and put them on the garden. They make great mulch.

Mow Everything

Wait, I thought you just said “Don’t mow.”

Well, I did. But do mow around buildings and your garden and all areas that are overgrown around your garden. Good garden hygiene helps to keep voles and woodchucks from feeling secure in prowling your garden in fall and early spring.

Settle in and order up some seed catalogs

Johnny's Seeds is my personal favorite, as is their online newsletter.

https://www.vermontwildflowerfarm.com/ Don’t offer a print catalog, but their online catalog is great!

https://www.rareseeds.com/requestcat/catalog

Do you have a favorite seed catalog? We would love to know.

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