Edible Bozeman

The Bittersweet Time: Caring for Your Garden in Fall

The author in her backyard orchard. Photo by Chieko Horn.

Fall is such a bittersweet time of year in the garden. As we bask in the literal fruits of our labor, the mornings are getting cooler, the days shorter, and we know a hard frost is on its way.

The long-term goal, on our ¾-acre homestead in Bozeman, is to produce the majority of our own food. This means that in addition to large annual vegetable gardens, we have chickens and an orchard of fruit trees, berry bushes, and other perennial edibles. However, with a three-month growing season, this goal of self-reliance is often daunting. That is why these fall months are so important.

In September, we are deep into harvest season. There is nothing quite like the sense of accomplishment you feel from enjoying a meal that incorporates, or is even made almost entirely from, what grows in your garden. At this time of year, make sure you harvest your warm-season crops (such as peppers, tomatoes, winter squash, eggplant) while keeping them covered with frost cloth for the entire day and evening. The first hard frost usually happens in this month so it is important to check nighttime temperatures on a daily basis. If you grow any fruit in your garden, harvests at this time of year can include apples, pears, plums, grapes, and elderberries.

In September and October, you can join me in mad food preservation mode. Tomatoes overflow our counters; the dehydrator hums away in the mudroom; cabbage, carrots, basil, and broccoli are stuffed into our crisper; and boxes of apples are stored in the basement.

If you’re like me, you can sneak in pesto making while dinner is cooking or throw some apples in the dehydrator before going to bed.

Though the craziness of food preservation is often not ideal, the security of having a stocked freezer and jars of food in the pantry is. From freezing oven-roasted tomatoes, pesto, and applesauce, to dehydrating pears and plums, to making grape jam or sauerkraut and drying herbs like oregano, rosemary, and thyme, days and evenings can be full with bringing in the harvest. If you have a smaller garden, you might be doing the same tasks—they’ll just take you less time!

When you’re considering food preservation techniques, think of quick and easy ways to process and store food. You’ll buy yourself some time so that you can move some of the processing to November.

Come the end of October and early November, I let my chickens wander through my annual gardens. They clean up the gardens, scratch up the soil, and fertilize my beds. If you have a backyard compost, it is usually ready by this time of year and can be added to your garden beds as well. Finally, covering your beds with a layer of leaves is a great way to prepare everything for the following spring.

By mid-November, the snow is usually flying and most food preservation is complete. After an intense and busy fall, it’s nice to look out into the yard and realize that nothing needs to be done outside. Instead, the invitation is for you to relax a little more, turn inward, and enjoy garden meals throughout the winter.

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