Soon, we’ll feel the familiar brisk change in the air. Daylight won’t be quite as harsh or last as long. Instead of our summer uniform of shorts and a tee shirt, it’ll be time to don a sweater and some jeans. Fall is coming.
As gardeners, the approaching season means it’s time to get to work, finishing what we started several months ago. Hopefully, you’ve had a fruitful summer. The bounty of summer can last well into the winter if you’re prepared for the harvest.
- Make a plan to can. When it’s time to harvest each plant, set aside a day and be prepared to pull food from the garden, cook and can. Have your canning supplies ready and enlist some help. Never canned before? Ball makes a starter kit, available in most grocery and department stores. APN has tips, tricks and recipes to get you started or inspire seasoned canners. One fruit or vegetable can be canned in a variety of ways, creating diversity in your cold-weather pantry.
- You may not want to can everything, so look into drying and freezing as other methods of long term food storage. Drying apples, peppers and herbs extends their place in your kitchen and recipes for months. Make a large batch of applesauce and freeze it. Applesauce is both a healthy treat and an alternative to store-bought sugar in many baking recipes. Food preservation used to be a standard part of American life. Some of the best recipes come from the 1950s and WWII era and are available online and in old cookbooks.
- Save your seeds. Seed saving is a gardener’s most important means of self-reliance. Not only do you save money, you ensure that plants that thrived in your garden will get the chance to do it again. For the uninitiated, seed saving can be daunting. It just takes a little getting used to. (If you know an experienced seed saver, ask for help in return for some of your best bean seeds.) The best online resource for beginners and seasoned pros is the Seed Savers Exchange. They keep detailed guides on the best way to save a variety of seeds. The time you spend saving seeds this summer is an investment in next year.
- Before you let the yields of summer go to you head, start thinking about the fall, winter and spring. Your soil needs rest and repair to remain self-sustaining. If you plan for some areas of your garden to lay fallow, plant a cover crop. (The specific crop you plant is best decided by your geographical location.) Cover crops – oats, grasses, and legumes – add variety to crop rotation, return nitrogen to the soil, protect the land from harsh freezes and prevent soil erosion. On top of all that, the seeds are typically dirt cheap. Do you research now and decide which areas of the garden should be given a break. Before the spring planting season, you can turn in your cover crops for an added boost of nutrients.
- Start keeping a record of your garden. For centuries, farmers and gardeners have kept journals. Your beds are unique – they are a product of your area’s climate and weather and the changes you’ve made over the years. The successes of this season will be hard to recall in detail when you plan your 2015 summer garden. A garden journal is a plan for the future that relies on your past experience. A detailed account of your garden, including what plants were happy where, the pests you encountered and conquered (or didn’t), and which plants failed or thrived is a useful, cost-effective tool for improving your garden and your land year after year.