One Year – One Ton of Fresh Food: Fall Garden Review

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Today’s blog entry is one of a four-post series that highlights my garden favorites over the past year — one post per season. I hope you’ll come back and see more stories from the past winter, spring, and summer, many of which I’ve never shared before, here or elsewhere.

Little Bo Peep seems to shiver in the cooler morning air of fall, but there is still time for this tromboncino squash to mature. September 23rd, 2012

Little Bo Peep seems to shiver in the cooler morning air of fall, but there is still time for this tromboncino squash to mature. September 23rd, 2012

 

Prologue

Big numbers can be hard to understand. When I tell folks that I’ve grown a ton of produce in a year from our 1/10th of an acre garden, their jaws drop. There’s no doubt that 2000 pounds of produce is a lot of food — enough for our family to have fresh vegetables year-round, enough to share, and enough to sell or barter when we really have excess.

That said, let me tell you something: I haven’t done anything that extraordinary here, folks. Thousands of families do this every year, and many of them have larger yields than me (though maybe not in a tiny garden perched on a steep hillside). I simply took the time to document my harvests, and if you did the same, you’d understand how a few ounces of greens and a couple pounds of root crops harvested regularly can add up to an incredible amount of food over time.

Which is why I want to share this past year with you — I want you to see 2000 lbs of produce growing in the garden. I want to help you understand more about what that number means (because really, it’s about more than just numbers).

Most importantly, I want you to believe that this is something that you are capable of doing, too. Growing the majority of food that you consume on a daily basis is possible. It doesn’t take an incredible amount of land, or even flat land for that matter. A little money might be required if you don’t save seeds or need to purchase other supplies, but no stock market will give you a return on investment that your garden can bring. Chemical inputs are optional, as are high-energy inputs like supplemental heat and lighting in fall and winter (I use none of these). It doesn’t take much, other than your sweat and time, to grow your own food.

So… You can do this! Even if you grow just enough for a meal every few days, or as a side to a meal a few times a week, that’s a great accomplishment. Your pocketbook can benefit. Your health will benefit. The planet benefits.

 

Collecting fall tomatoes with Miss Muffet on September 23rd, 2012. The upper beds are just beginning to show growth of fall/winter vegetables.

Collecting fall tomatoes with Miss Muffet on September 23rd, 2012. The upper beds are just beginning to show growth of fall/winter vegetables.

 

Fall’s Garden

My garden harvest log for fall doesn’t begin until November 1st — it was our first freeze date, and thus the date I chose when starting this blog a little over a year ago. Between November 1 and December 21 (the first day of winter), we harvested 103.5 pounds of food — not a bad total in 7 weeks of freezing weather. What were we harvesting? Primarily Asian greens, broccoli, carrots, beets, turnips, rutabagas, lettuces, and peas.

On the last day of fall, we passed the 100 pound mark with this 6-pound loose-leaf Chinese cabbage.

On the last day of fall, we passed the 100 pound mark with this 6-pound loose-leaf Chinese cabbage.

 

But we’re going back a little farther than that in today’s post — to the official start of autumn on September 22nd. That’s because to fully understand what fall gardening entails in my plant hardiness zone, 6b, you need to see how it starts. Much of the fall garden has to be planted starting in mid-August so that crops are reaching maturity by the time really cold temperatures and less day-length arrive.

These gorgeous fall broccoli are just beginning to peak on October 21st, 2012 (transplanted to the garden on August 15th).

These gorgeous fall broccoli are just beginning to peak on October 21st, 2012 (transplanted to the garden on August 15th).

 

Fall marks an ending, but also a new beginning in the garden

At my fall and winter gardening workshops, I’ll have at least one person that asks me how I grow tomatoes after frost. Well, to everything there is a season, and let’s face it — fall and winter are not the much-celebrated tomato’s season. In contrast to cold-tolerant crops, a tomato begins converting sugars to starches when grown in cooler temperatures (which is why you store tomatoes on the counter, not the fridge, right?). Although I can extend the lifetime of tomatoes in my garden a little beyond the first frost of the year, I choose not to. That’s because I would rather have an entire fall and winter of colorful, tender, sweet, fresh greens and root crops, than a few extra weeks of mediocre tomatoes. So even though it is hard to say goodbye, I begin culling tomato plants and other heat-loving garden vegetables after the autumn equinox, as I need their space to begin planting the fall and winter crops.

If you’d like to see more of our garden in early fall, have a look at this video — we’re harvesting sweet potatoes, tomatoes, squash, and more on September 23rd, 2012:

 

We’re not the only ones cleaning up the garden, however. Prior to and during the removal of spent plants, mulch, and trellises, the ducks are allowed into the garden to remove pests and whatever remaining plants they would like to eat.

Really? These tomatoes are all ours?!

Really? These tomatoes are all ours?!

The ducks are kept well away from areas of the garden that are in active production. Inexpensive bird netting does the trick, since our duck breeds are too heavy to fly over the 3 ft high fence.

The ducks are kept well away from areas of the garden that are in active production. Inexpensive bird netting does the trick, since our duck breeds are too heavy to fly over the 3 ft high fence. Because it is hard to see, I tie bright pieces of spare yarn to it.

 

Besides sanitation, another reason to keep your garden fenced from the ducks -- they love kale as much as you do.

Besides sanitation, another reason to keep your garden fenced from the ducks — they love kale as much as you do.

The ducks really go crazy when plastic mulch is removed, as that is the hangout spot for delicious slugs and yummy crickets. I love watching them hunt:

 

Frost’s Arrival

The real magic of fall gardening happens when the first frost arrives. Watching vegetables freeze and then spring back to life undamaged continues to be nothing short of amazing to me, and I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times. My favorite time to be in the garden, of all times in the year, is the morning after a hard freeze.

Each frost brings a new pattern of ice crystals on plant surfaces...

Each frost brings a new pattern of ice crystals on plant surfaces (Asian mustard, November 29th)…

Each plant can have a different pattern of crystallization.

And each plant can have a different pattern of crystallization (Japanese Giant Red Mustard, same morning as previous).

Broccoli becomes limp due to dessication from freezing temperatures, but perks right back up as soon as temperatures warm (November 6).

Broccoli becomes limp due to dessication from freezing temperatures… (November 6).

Same broccoli as it thaws later that morning.

but perks right back up once temperatures warm (later in the morning as previous).

 

If you are new to the blog or cold-weather gardening and would like to learn more about how these plants survive freezing weather (plus how you can give them some help), check out my article on low tunnels.

 

Now that I’ve given you a little explanation of my garden in fall, I hope you enjoy the following images of the season.

A Fall Garden Bed, Month by Month

September 14th

September 14th

October 8th. From left, endive, kohlrabi, beets, swiss chard, and carrots.

October 8th. From left, endive, kohlrabi, beets, swiss chard, and carrots.

November 1st

November 1st

 

December 1st.

December 1st.

 

 

Miscellaneous

Bingo finds a sunny spot. November 29th.

Bingo finds a sunny spot in a portion of the garden that I “donated” to duck foraging. November 29th.

Fall 2012's first snow came before the first frost. October 30th

Fall 2012’s first snow came before the first frost. October 30th

Freshly washed winter squash ready to go on the curing rack.

Freshly washed winter squash ready to go on the curing rack.

Blanching extra snow peas to freeze on November 7th. Most people around here only plant peas in the spring, but they perform great in fall!

Blanching extra snow peas to freeze on November 7th. Most people around here only plant peas in the spring, but they perform great in fall!

This was the year I was brave enough to eat weeds like chickweed, purslane, and cress. They are delicious!

This was the year I was adventurous enough to eat weeds like chickweed, purslane, and cress. They are delicious!

This is one of my favorite pictures of our garden. I love the fall colors, the peas blooming at the bottom of the garden, a low tunnel,  the ducks at work, and hints of the nearby cityscape.

This is one of my favorite pictures of our garden. I love the fall colors, the peas blooming at the bottom of the garden, the ducks at work, and hints of the nearby cityscape.

Fall strawberries? Our ever-bearing strawberries shut down in summer's heat, but picked back up again with fall's cooler temperatures.

Fall strawberries? Our ever-bearing strawberries shut down in summer’s heat, but picked back up again with fall’s cooler temperatures.

Purple kohlrabi, endive, and lolla bionda lettuce

Purple kohlrabi, endive, and lolla bionda lettuce

This was my first time growing semi-heading Chinese cabbage. Their development was so much fun to watch.

This was my first time growing semi-heading Chinese cabbage. Their development was so much fun to watch.

Who says seeds need warm temperatures to germinate? Don't tell this fava bean, sprouting up on November 30th.

Who says seeds need warm temperatures to germinate? Don’t tell this fava bean, sprouting up on November 30th.

A popular image that draws gasps in my fall/winter gardening workshops. I never get crowns this large in spring, but look what happens when they develop during the cooler temperatures of fall!

A popular image that draws gasps in my fall/winter gardening workshops. I never get crowns this large in spring, but look what happens when they develop during the cooler temperatures of fall!

Broccoli's close cousin, rapini, on December 8th.

Broccoli’s close cousin, rapini, on December 8th.

A frequent side to fall meals: roasted root crops (turnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, and beets). Coat vegetable pieces in olive oil and roast at 400F until fork tender.

A frequent side to fall meals: roasted root crops (turnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, and beets). Coat vegetable pieces in olive oil and roast at 400F until fork tender.

I love when my girls join me in the garden (especially when they pitch in and help).

I love when my girls join me in the garden (especially when they pitch in and help).

Garlic planted in early November, thawing after a hard freeze on December 19th.

Garlic planted in early November, thawing after a hard freeze on December 19th.

A blue hubbard -- ready for the approaching winter.

A blue hubbard — ready for the approaching winter.

 

28 Comments

  1. littlemountainhaven

    November 17, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    I LOVED THIS POST SO MUCH!!!!!

    • Ma Hubbard

      November 18, 2013 at 5:47 am

      Thank you, Little Mountain Haven. I’ve been enjoying your fall garden from afar this year as well. Cheers!

  2. Charlene and Fred Lovelace

    November 18, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    I’m really impressed with your garden and beautiful helpers. Our weather has been way to warm but I’m still hoping my winter garden will recover and thrive. My husband is from Middlesboro Ky and went to Eastern Kentucky. We grow food everywhere we can around our place here in Wetumpka AL. We live on a lake and even grown stuff on our dock. I’m not happy unless I’m digging in the soil. Fred’s grandmother was Jennie Broshear and was from Clear Creek near you.

    • Ma Hubbard

      November 18, 2013 at 10:23 pm

      Thank you! Alabama is a lovely state, and it sounds like you’ve made it even prettier with your garden. I’ll look for the Broshears from Clear Creek for sure. Have a wonderful evening!

  3. Joyce Cody

    November 18, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    This is so exciting to see all of this I love looking at all the vegetables and pictures of the girls

    • Ma Hubbard

      November 18, 2013 at 10:20 pm

      So glad you stopped by!!! Thank you!

  4. Pingback: One Year - One Ton of Food: Winter

  5. Melissa

    December 7, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    This is so inspiring! We sit on 1/8 acre and I’m slowly figuring out what grows best where on our tiny plot, which can be a bit frustrating at times. What you have created, though, is phenomenal! I’m ready and excited to start planning next years garden (and really, truly, get better about gardening in all four seasons! Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Ma Hubbard

      December 8, 2013 at 9:47 pm

      Thank you, Melissa! Happy gardening!

  6. Greg Prater

    February 14, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Very nice. I read Nancy Goss’ article about your family and garden in today’s paper. cant wait to read the other entries. I too am a high school biology teacher. I started square foot gardening 3 years ago and reading this makes me want to try things like your low tunnels and cold frames. Well done.

    Greg Prater
    Ratliff Creek Road
    Pikeville

    • Ma Hubbard

      February 15, 2014 at 1:07 pm

      Thank you, Greg!

  7. Pingback: Mother of a Hubbard One Year – One Ton of Fresh Food: Spring Garden Review

  8. Aura Wright

    April 1, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    You are such an inspiration! Thank you for all that you share. The 2nd video (right before the “Frost’s Arrival” heading) is not working…says it is private. The pictures show so much!!! Do you use the standard plant spacing in your covered rows or closer?

  9. Rhonda Michelle Smith

    October 11, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Gives me hope.. Good post!

  10. michelle

    October 12, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    Do you use anything to keep pests away? Majority of my raised beds got demolished between flea beetles, mexican beetles and cabbage moths with their caterpillars….. looking for insight on how to handle next year….

    • Cathy

      October 21, 2014 at 3:37 pm

      I don’t spray any pesticides, including organic ones, as I am a beekeeper. Neem oil can be used if your careful with it, and has one of the lowest bee toxicities of the sprays available. I simply prefer to be vigilant early in the season and scout for bugs, picking them off and dropping them into a jug of soapy water — that prevents populations from building. I also use trap crops for flea beetles… they prefer mustards, and so I’ll plant them to get their attention away from my more desirable crops (though I like mustards, too, just more commonly cooked so hole-ridden leaves don’t matter). Good luck!

  11. littlesproutslearning

    October 14, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    Very cool! I’d love to see more of this! Thanks for sharing!

  12. littlesproutslearning

    October 14, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Where are you located? I’m interested in how your climate compares to mine in Oklahoma?

    • Cathy

      October 21, 2014 at 3:29 pm

      Eastern Kentucky mountains, zone 6b. You can check out the garden tab at the bottom of the page for more info. Thanks!

  13. Andrea @Little Big Harvest

    October 28, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    Oh my goodness…I’ve been reading much of your blog lately (I LOVE it), and I had somehow missed that you were working with such a small space. What an incredible inspiration! Keep up the good work, wow! 🙂

  14. kate C.

    October 28, 2014 at 9:11 pm

    Do you still work as a professor full-time and do all this gardening? That’s impressive! I’m also a college prof (cell and mol bio) and love my garden. I’d really like to get into winter gardening (though not sure how I’ll make time with the semester getting started and in full swing…). I’m in zone 5a, so quite a bit north of you, but wonder if you have any idea how I could do low tunnels over raised beds 4ft x 8ft? I was thinking about just covering a bed or two, so I suppose I could just get poles the same length as yours and then bend it over including part of the paths in between my beds… hmm… I’ve read Eliot Coleman’s book, but I’m not going to do the big houses, so I probably wouldn’t be able to keep my stuff okay all winter in just low tunnels, even with a couple layers of plastic. Ok, enough procrastination. Just wanted to say hi and that I’ve enjoyed your blog since I found it a few weeks ago. And if you have any ideas for low tunnels over raised beds let me know! 🙂

    • Cathy

      October 29, 2014 at 11:09 pm

      Hello, Kate. Yes, I am still a full-time professor… it sounds like we have much in common. 🙂 I think what you’re proposing with the tunnel frames sounds like it will work. Some people also anchor the poles to the base of the raised bed with c-clamps, but as long as you have the poles anchored at least a foot into the ground, they should hold steady. You should be able to keep many things throughout the winter in your zone — just don’t let your tunnels get over 60 F in the day, or you risk them losing the sugars and freeze-tolerance proteins that they need to survive the deep drops in temperature at night. Good luck!

    • Marcia Little

      December 18, 2015 at 7:39 am

      Kate C. check out YouTube, building row covers

  15. Lee @ Lady Lee's Home

    October 29, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Amazing!

    • Cathy

      October 29, 2014 at 11:14 pm

      Thank you!

  16. wesley miller

    October 30, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    Thank you just in time of need wife is pregnant with second blessing anddaddy injured family in need to get more from our garden would be heavenly to get 2000 lbs all year long . Moved here new to Georgia clay growing and not doing well lol only cantalope, broccoli, squash, radishes, collards will grow so bringing in new soil and compost for years to come god bless wish me luck

    miller family

  17. Shelly

    September 15, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    I’m inspired! Now to try it myself!

  18. Gloria

    December 30, 2015 at 1:09 am

    I am wondering how Broccoli’s close cousin, rapini is cooked or is it served as in a salad? I live near the New Orleans airport and have gardened for 14 years. We also collect grass clippings from neighbors for our compost piles. We also have a few little Bantam hens that control the bugs in the garden. I canned a lot of veggies this summer as it is safer than loosing it all in the freezer when a Hurricane comes our way. I hope you talk about how you anchor the PVC pipes for your hot house cover. Going to read more now. Happy new Year to You and Yours.