Summer Slips Away, Autumn Arrives

Cassandra Warner copyBy Cassandra Warner

Hope your summer garden has been all you hoped for and more. The summer garden, filled with its sweet delights, will soon transition to an awesome autumn affair in the fall garden. It can provide many savory vegetables and herbs, along with beautiful flowers and autumn colors that will surely inspire us to be out in the garden.

Cool fall temperatures and fewer bugs make fall gardening a most enjoyable time. As summer changes to fall this month, there is much to do as we are still in the midst of canning, freezing and drying the summer harvest. So it’s a busy, busy time. But when you have all that wonderful food preserved for winter and can have more fresh food coming in through fall and into winter, it’s all worth it.

Save up, store up

Two important things that go on during fall gardening time are the process of storing some of the food from our gardens and saving seeds for next year. By harvesting, curing, and storing properly the summer and fall garden bounty, it will help chase the winter blues away as you eat and enjoy what you have stored from your garden.

*Potatoes are dug once the vine dies and should be laid in a single layer in a dark room or shed. Light will turn them green and they will not be good to eat. If curing in a shed before a hard freeze, the potatoes can be put in bushel baskets and moved ideally to a root cellar. They will last the longest in a dark humid cool 34-50 degrees location with good ventilation. They should be checked occasionally to remove any potatoes that may be rotting so it doesn’t spread to the others.

*Onions are mature when the tops are approximately 80 percent browned out and flopping over. At this point, bend the remaining tops and between the next 5-10 days. On a sunny day, pull the onions in the morning and let them lay out in the sun until evening. Then bring them into a shaded area with good air circulation, leaving them there for a couple of weeks, turning every couple of days. Once cured, keep in a cool dry place from 33-45 degrees and 60-75 percent humidity.

*If you grow garlic, which puts out a seed head in early June, cut it off to signal the plant to put its energy into the bulb. Pull garlic when there are 4-5 green leaves left, probably late June early July. Clean it by cutting the tops and roots with pruning shears and peel off the first few sheaths. Another method is to leave the tops on to cure. Either way, cure them in a shady, well-ventilated place. Then cut off the tops and store in a mesh bag in a dark place, slightly humid at 60-75 percent. Soft neck varieties keep up to 8 months, hard neck about 4 months.

*Beets, carrots, turnips and rutabagas should be harvested after 30-degree nights. Root crops can be stored by removing tops. DO NOT WASH. Place them in an area just above freezing with 95 percent humidity. You can pack them in boxes, bins or cans surrounded by straw or put them in moist sand in an outdoor storage pit or root cellar. These can also be left in the garden where they grew. To make digging them up in the winter easier, cover them with leaves or straw 10-12 inches deep.

LateSummerHarvest*Pumpkins and winter squash are harvested when mature, when color has become dull instead of glossy. When the rinds are hard enough, they cannot be dented with the thumbnail. Cut them off the vine instead of pulling, leaving 2-3 inches of vine. They must be cured. This helps toughen their skins so they will keep better. Leave pumpkins in the field up to 2 weeks after picking. Cure winter squash, leaving in shade and not exceeding 80 degrees 5-10 days before storing. If weather is near freezing, cure squash in a room about 70 degrees for 5-10 days.  After curing, take care not to bruise, and store on shelves separated from each other in a 50-60 degree dry place. If you see any mold develop, wipe it off with a slightly oily cloth. Treated this way, they should last 5-6 months.

*Sweet potatoes should be free from injury to store and need to be cured for final storage. After digging, dry for an hour or two, then place in boxes and keep in warm temps about 85 degrees for 3 weeks to develop their best flavor. Then, they can be kept 50-60 degrees in a dry place, well ventilated with moderate humidity up to 75 degrees.

*Jerusalem artichokes or Sun chokes are really to store.  Leave them in the ground and harvest anytime after the first frost all through the winter. Sun chokes are thin skinned, so dig no more than a two-week supply at a time. Before the Sun chokes begin to sprout in the spring, dig what you do not want to come up, because they will come up!

Saving seeds

Generally speaking, regarding extracting seeds, they are either wet or dry. Dry extract seeds are those that dry right on the plant at maturity, such as beans, corn and okra. Wet extraction is necessary for crops that are juicy at maturity, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and melons. Remove these seeds, and for best results, subject them to fermentation, then wash and dry quickly for good storage and viability.  If drying outside, find a spot out of the rain and direct sun with good air circulation or indoors with a fan blowing on them. Fermentation processing for tomatoes would be to crush the fruit in a bowl or bucket covered with cloth that allows for air flow but keeps flies out. Fermentation wards off some seed borne diseases and fermented seeds often germinate more quickly.  Fermentation will just take 2-3 days. A mat of mold is discernible on the surface of the pulp. At this point, wash the seeds free of pulp and skins through several rinses. The good seeds will sink and the pulp will mostly float off. Spread the clean seeds on paper towels or coffee filters to dry. Then, store dry in a sealed container in a cool, dry, dark place. Scoop out the seeds of cucumbers, squash and melons and use the same fermentation process. Pepper seeds have greater germination rates if you allow the fruit to become overripe. Separate the seeds and dry on paper plates, paper towels or coffee filters for about a month. Then store in a sealed container in a cool dark place.


Fall crops that like cool weather include beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, cilantro, chives, collards, celery, onions, parsley, parsnips, peas, radish, leaf lettuce, turnips, swiss chard and spinach. A few good varieties of spinach for planting in early fall are Melody, Indian summer, Tyee, and Monstrueux De Viroflay. Plant pansies and other fall annuals such as viola, calendula, dianthus chinensis, ornamental kale and cabbage which you can also eat.


For a good crop rotation, plant your cabbage where peas grew. Plant peonies 1 ½ – 2 inches below ground level. Deeper planting keeps the plants from blooming. Fall is a great time to plant bare root trees and shrubs. So it’s a good time to consider adding splashes of autumn color to your landscape. Some trees to consider that turn red in the fall are dogwood, red maple, black gum and red or scarlet oak. Some shrubs with red fall foliage are barberry, winged euonymus, and viburnum. It’s also time to start thinking about spring flowering bulbs for your

landscape or gardens like tulips, daffodils, dutch iris, freesia, anemone, oxalis, ranunculus, watsonia, hyacinth, crocus (from which you can get saffron).  For best flowering, store the bulbs in a paper bag in your refrigerator crisper section (away from apples) at least 6 weeks before planting. As you plan for a spring show of these beauties, remember a mass planting of one flower type or color will be a spectacular looking display. Also planting spring flowering bulbs between winter annuals provides a long lasting beautiful display. Plant garlic on or near the first killing frost. Use the biggest cloves and plant 2 inches deep 5-6 inches apart and cover with 3-6 inches of straw or other mulch.

My five favorites for fall are kale, swiss chard, beets, mustard and Chinese cabbage (napa). I love kale cooked or in salads. It becomes my main fresh, salad green in the winter when every thing else is gone. Then in the spring, it comes back with wonderfully delicious florets that look like baby broccoli to toss in salads or stir-fry.

CabbageBeets and swiss chard are nutritional super foods. They are variations of the same beta vulgaris species. Beets are grown for the roots mostly, but the beet greens are delicious in salads or cooked like the chard. I love chard cooked until tender, with melted sharp cheddar cheese on it. Beets and chard both grow well in beds that have plenty of well-finished compost in the soil. They can be grown both as spring and fall crops. I have had beets that I left over winter, covering with straw that provided my earliest spring greens. The beet itself was not edible, but the greens were great. My chard self seeds every year, so I give it its own area. But it also travels out into other areas.

Mustard is a member of the same family as broccoli, and it also contains a number of cancer-fighting compounds. It is a culinary delight in salads. I chop up fresh leaves and add to other greens and lettuce. Steaming or stir frying greatly reduces the pungent flavor of the fresh leaves. The seeds can also be harvested as spice for pickling. I also let my mustard self seed every year.

Chinese cabbage is a barrel-shaped, light green, crisp, crinkled, wrinkled-looking head in the grocery store. It is called napa and is wonderful in salads, stir fries or steamed. Give them a little protection in the winter with straw. They tolerate cold and can be kept alive most winters with row cover or an old quilt if temps go below 10 degrees.


*Begin fall clean up in the garden and flowerbeds.

*Pull out any vegetable plants that are no longer bearing and add them to the compost. Pile or chop them up and turn under in the bed if you are not planting a fall crop there. Cover the bed with sheets of newspaper then cover with straw, leaves or wood chips and the worms will get busy and enrich your soil for spring.  Or plant a cover crop.

*Start pinching the new blossoms on pumpkin, tomatoes, eggplant, or any other summer crops so existing fruit has a better chance of ripening. To encourage sprout development in Brussels sprouts now, pinch out the tops to redirect their energy.

*Dig, divide and replant oregano.

*Divide and transplant early blooming perennials.

*Plan ahead for peas in the spring by getting a bed ready for them in the fall and remember they do not like to grow where they grew the year before.  Work compost and lime into the bed and cover it with mulch and you will be in good shape to get your peas planted early.

Weed woes or whoa

Yes, something on which most gardeners can agree wholeheartedly is putting the whoa on weeds and weeds can be a WOE!!! Well, of course, no matter what you’re growing or trying to grow, the weeds seem like they have no problems. Some can seem to become almost bigger than lifelike, the fairy tale beanstalk reaching unknown heights, and root systems headed for China. In any areas where I did not get mulch in this summer’s garden, I can only say now… I wish I had!

Along with mulch to suppress weeds, there are also some plants that produce natural chemicals known as allelochemicals that inhibit the growth of competing species. According to Stephen Gliessman, author of Agroecology:  The Ecology of Sustainable Food Systems, these chemicals often inhibit weeds more than they impact crop plants. Some plants exude allelochemicals through their roots and some of the chemicals are leached from leaf litter that is falling on the ground or from the dead, decaying plant. One of the first examples of allelopathy (the chemical warfare between plants) was with black walnut almost 100 years ago. The actual compound found in the soil around black walnuts was identified and is called juglone and  is very toxic to other plants. So in placement of gardens and flowerbeds, it is important to keep them away from black walnuts.

Some common crop plants that have been shown to utilize allelopathy include beets, buckwheat, barley, cucumber, oats, peas and wheat. The squash plants suppress weed growth by blocking the sunlight with its large leaves, but it has been found that when rain drips off its leaves, it takes with it allelochemicals that have been shown to suppress weed growth.

Certain mulches leach allelochemicals onto the soil’s surface, such as wheat straw or coffee chaff (you can get this from coffee roasters). Without a doubt, we can use all the help we can get with this chore. Thanks to nature, we have a helping hand we can utilize. I have a feeling we will always have some weeds to be pulling out, but do not let ‘em get you down, just get ‘em out.

From big to little and everything in between

I love the varieties of size, colors, shapes and of course, flavors that come from the garden. From a small apple-sized Jack Be Little pumpkin to a whopping 43 ½ pound Moon and Stars watermelon; from the cute patty pan squash to long club-like shapes of Serpente Di Sicilla and Zucchino Rampicante; from the little red cherry tomato to a huge orange-yellow persimmon tomato and every size and color in between, YUM! And with peppers of all colors (purple, red, yellow, orange and green) in all sizes and shapes, one thing is for sure: God certainly did not make food boring. Such a feast for the tummy and the eyes.

Herbs in the garden

Cilantro creates calm. Eat more cilantro for fresh, tangy taste, and if you are super stressed. It is wonderful in salads, salsa’s, guacamole, chili, soup and more. For a great dressing, mix fresh lime juice, olive oil, cilantro, garlic, a little honey or Stevia and swish in the blender a few seconds. A recent study in the journal Psychology Research and Behavior Management confirms that cilantro helps ease away tension as effectively as a low dose of Valium. Cilantro contains natural compounds that supercharge production of one of the brain’s own anti-anxiety chemicals, GABA. Cilantro thrives in cool fall weather so it is a perfect time for some cool and calm cilantro.

There are two bonuses in growing cilantro other than for its leaves. Firstly, coriander (cilantro seed) benefits the sophisticated palate and the body. Coriander is used in modern medicine primarily as a flavoring agent to mask the taste of other compounds and to calm the irritating effects on the stomach that certain medicines produce. The Journal of Food Science reports that coriander seeds lower blood-sugar levels. Coriander seed has a pleasant citrus flavor and can be used in marinades, salad dressings, cheese, eggs, chili sauce, guacamole, pickling brine, soup, stews, pasta salads, for teas and more. Secondly, cilantro is also a great garden plant for attracting beneficial insects. So, it is a great addition to the garden for you and those insects you need and want out there. Note:  For culinary use of the seeds, heat in a hot dry pan until the scent is notable, then cool and grind with a mortar and pestle. I hope that saying goodbye to summer and HELLO to fall brings much more healthy food and many more happy times in the garden to all.

Originally from Texas, Cassandra Warner is a transplant to the garden of Tennessee.  Gardening has been one of her passions for forty years.  “Gardening connects you to the miracle of life and provides healthy exercise and stress relief.  Mine has been a learn as you grow school, and I plan to always ‘Keep it Growing’.”

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