The end of August and beginning of September is still peak harvesting around here, and my garden is in full swing. Unfortunately, this is also the time of year that I get killed into complacency because the harvest time is so easy and the garden just continues to produce without me doing much more than picking and watering as necessary. September is the time where it feels like I’ll always have something fresh to pick when I feel like it, but it’s really the beginning of the end when most produce is concerned until all the way into March or April.
Of course I should have some kale to pick come January, and garlic scapes shoot up in February, but for the most part, things taper off in October, or at the very latest, November. But since it is just the start of September, I have to remind myself now is the time to prepare for those winter months or I really won’t have anything to harvest once the summer plants are done for the year. It’s hard to beat the satisfaction of having garden produce to pick in the dead of winter, and this last year was the very first time I picked straight through the year without a break or at least a month or two. I’d like to keep that up next year as well.
It’s hard to believe it, but I am still picking blueberries (and just a few strawberries). By far this has been the best year ever, and they just keep on coming. I planted our first couple of bushes the first summer we moved into our house and they’re now mature enough to produce quite a bit of fruit thanks to a bit of pruning and composting love, and not much else. I just can’t sing the praises of perennials enough. Once you’ve put in the up front work, they can be the workhorses in your garden no matter how little time you have to devote to them in the future.
Beyond blueberries, we’ve been picking cherry tomatoes for a while now and the larger tomatoes are starting to ripen as well. There really is nothing like homegrown tomatoes and I try and eat my full this time of year because I honestly can’t stomach the taste of out of season hothouse variety any more, beyond a slice on a sandwich or cooked into a meal. Unfortunately, some of my Amish paste tomatoes have some blossom end rot, which is really unfortunate. I’ve supplemented with calcium through the summer, so I’m not quite sure what happened.
We have one trellis with hops, and while it’s not quite as tall as it should be (hops will grow up to 20′), it does well enough to produce a crop that will be plenty for a beer brewing or two. Pre-kid, my husband did a decent amount of beer brewing but not near as much these days. Previously, we didn’t have enough hops to brew a full beer, so he did a hopped cider with local apple cider, and it turned out great.
Other ripe vegetables right now include a smattering of peppers, potatoes, cucumbers, some herbs, garlic (always garlic!) and a few sweet onions. I didn’t plant a huge variety this year like I have previously, and while I wish I would have gotten around to planting some carrots this spring, I’ve been pretty happy with how I filled our garden beds. My first few years of gardening I way overbought on seeds and varieties and we ended up with way more zucchini and eggplant, for example, than we would ever eat as a family. Cherry tomatoes, garlic, peas, and blueberries, on the other hand, we can’t seem to get enough of.
Much like the limited things I’m now canning, I’ve learned what we will eat and have done away with the rest. With both gardening and cooking, I was enamored by all the options early on and was tempted to try some of everything. Now I grow – and make – only what I know we will eat or give away as gifts, and there is a lot less waste associated with both.
End of summer is also a time for seed saving for the next year. While I’ve been saving green bean and sugar snap pea seeds for years now, I’m starting to be more mindful about saving some of the seeds of almost everything I grow. Obviously saved seeds are free versus $1-$4 a packet, but it also reduces transportation and packaging waste as well.
Since I’m continually trying to head in the zero waste direction, this is very important to me. I’ll probably always buy a few seeds from time to time to try out new varieties, but I’d like to get to the point where I’m doing very little of that each year. Perhaps eventually I’ll get into seed swaps beyond a bit with my neighbors, but that’s an extra time commitment I’m not willing to take on at this time. After all, there’s a true cost to saying yes to too many things.
The seeds I’m saving now:
- Naughty Marietta marigolds
- Wildflowers (variety picked out by my son)
- Sugar snap peas
- Snow peas
- Blue Lake bush beans
- Evergreen bunching onions (green onions)
- Black seeded Simpson lettuce
- Walla Walla sweet onions
In regards to seed saving, even if a plant bolts early in the season, like my lettuce did in the unexpected heat, the plant can still be useful if you let it mature and go to seed. This was especially true with this lettuce planting because it was from older seeds (packed for the 2014 season) and almost none of the ones I planted this year actually sprouted. By saving the seed by the plant that grew to maturity, I get to restart the seed clock and the new seeds will be good for a few years now.
I have yet to attempt saving seed from any peppers or tomatoes, but I may this year. From what I’ve read online, they need some time to “ferment” in order to be ready for sprouting the next season. This would also mean growing the plants from seed in the future instead of buying starts. In order to have big plants, I’d need to find a place to start them inside, and we currently don’t have a place to do so in our small home. To be decided.
I’m a bit late, but I think I will plant some carrot, sweet onion, and garlic seeds in hopes of having an early spring harvest. I didn’t do a good job of this with onions or carrots this year, but it was awesome having green onions ready in the spring. After a long winter of not much besides kale, early spring vegetables are extra appreciated. I was hoping my kale would go to seed by now, but so far I’ve been out of luck. I’ll need to dig out any partial seed packets I have left or buy some kale starts. Perhaps I’ll grow some other brassicas this fall as well, but I’ve yet to have good luck with Brussels sprouts. Early still, but I’ll be planting garlic in October or early November as well. (For those of you in the Pacific Northwest, I check in with Erica’s monthly garden to do’s at NW Edible to make sure I’m on track – her breakdowns were especially valuable for me when I was just starting out).
Summertime in the garden really doesn’t cost a lot of money. Other than a small increase in our water bill, there were no costs associated with the garden in August. I am using up some old fertilizer, but half of the fertilizer I do use is coffee grounds and any spoiled milk we end up with in the fridge (tomatoes love calcium). I spent quite a bit setting up the garden in the first few years, but now it costs us very little.
Garden Cost, July: $10
Garden Cost, August: $10
Garden Cost, YTD: $85.32
While we’ve spent almost no money on the garden this summer, it has produced some serious fruit and vegetables for us that put us well into net positive as far as money making hobbies go. I may not consider gardening to be an “income stream,” as I don’t sell any of the harvest, it’s definitely a money saving endeavor at this point between what we eat ourselves and what we gift to others as presents, both fresh and canned goods for Christmas.
What are you harvesting this time of year? When does the season “end” for you, or do you grow things year round?