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Labor Day weekend – preserving, planting and celebrating

It seems right on cue to have a warm Labor Day weekend. The angle of the sun has changed, it’s getting dark earlier, and some tree leaves are starting to drop. Our autumn appears to me to come in 2 (non-distinct) parts. The first is what is sometimes called “Indian Summer” – those warm, dry days that are important for securing the most abundant harvest for winter. The second part is our “real” fall – the rains start, temperatures drop and the days get a lot shorter. These parts often overlap and leap-frog each other; I sure hope that it’s not too long before we get a good rain.

Some parts of my blog from last September are what I’d like to say now, so will be repeated here. Water use keeps coming up, as it’s an on-going issue. I wish I could use more of my greywater than what my bathtub and kitchen sink provide, but for now, these sources will help keep my garden going in these very dry conditions.

Labor Day weekend has almost always been food processing and preserving weekend for me. Salsa, pesto, cooking tomatoes, pickled veg, so much to do with apples and pears. What a bountiful area we live in! This is also a good time to make notes on how your summer crops did. What varieties did you like, or not like? Planting times? Spaces between plants? What would you like more or less of? How to make more space for fall plantings?

Speaking of which, it’s a little late now in some places for carrots and beets, but transplants of lettuce and the whole cabbage family can still go in this month, though in most areas I’d only suggest very large plants and/or early varieties for planting later than the middle of the month. And you can direct-seed radishes, arugula, bok choy, mustard greens, broccoli raab, mache (aka corn salad), green onions and spinach through September.

If you love spinach and have not had good results, this is the time to try again. Prepare the soil well, (as is good for all fall/winter crops), loosening deeply and adding an inch or 2 of good quality compost. If the compost does not have manure or high nutrient content, add an organic fertilizer too, mixing in to the top 4-6 inches of soil. Make little furrows about an inch deep and 8-12 inches apart, and plant spinach seeds 1-2 inches apart. Cover seeds with no more than a half inch of soil. A bit of a depression in the row will help keep in moisture. Water with a gentle spray; soil does not need to be wet constantly for seeds to germinate, but it should not try out completely either. When seedlings are 2-4 inches tall, thin out the wimpiest ones and eat. After that, about once a week or so, try a technique I call, “thin by harvesting and harvest by thinning”, until the strongest plants are 6-8 inches apart. You should be able to pick outside leaves of those remaining plants through at least February, when they will probably bolt (go to flower). Winter spinach salads are SO sweet!

This time of year, all of the vegetables and fruit we eat can come from our gardens or other farms and gardens nearby. This is something to celebrate! September 9-11 the Heirloom Expo will be at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, and I highly recommend attending this outstanding event! The displays of produce are breathtakingly beautiful and it is an amazing educational opportunity. Hundreds of varieties are labeled and you can get to know dozens of local farms from their creative produce arrangements. In addition, the lectures, demonstrations and tastings make this an event not to be missed. Grace pavilion will hold many non-profit organizations as well as artisans and seed companies.

I love the sense of connectedness I feel at the Expo. The “local food movement” – gardeners, farmers, food lovers, health professionals and those who respect and want to help heal Mother Earth – are all brought together for 3 days of sharing and celebrating. Connectedness gives me hope and a sense of security.

Happy harvesting!