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

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