The Fall Garden, Affectionately Known As “Summer Garden, the Sequel”
By Sherry Smith
Here it is, the end of summer. My daughter is back to her college classes, and the tropical storms are moving through. The flooding rains have returned, bringing relief to the poor pepper plants I’ve been nursing through the soul-searing heat of summer. Our vegetable garden consists of 4 raised beds that each measure 4 x 8 feet, 1 large raised bed that measures 12 x 32 feet, plus some large pots in which we grow cherry tomatoes. One of our smaller beds is planted with a variety of chiles. We have jalapeños, ghost chiles, island hellfires, brain strains, serranoes, habaneros, and Brazilian rainbow chiles. It’s all about the chiles here. Of course we grow sweet peppers, too, but we do love our homemade salsa (I’ve included a recipe for ghost chili wing sauce below). While peppers love long hot summers, they tend to slow production during the soul-searing heat of our summers. We get early summer harvests, followed by a handful of peppers here and there, followed by a heavier fall harvest … if the poor plants don’t burn.
While a good portion of the country is busy preserving their summer harvest, we are planning our fall garden. With the benefit of being able to garden year-round, we actually have 4 gardens per year, one for each season. Right now, we’re beginning preparations for our fall garden. Obviously, anyone can grow a fall garden, but ours is just a second summer garden. We don’t experience any frosts until late November, if any at all before our bout of winter weather begins at the end of January, so we grow a second summer garden. We’ve filled our pantry with jams, jellies, preserves, tomato sauce, salsa, pickles, relishes, and tomatoes with chiles. Our freezer is stocked with corn, green beans, Southern peas, and pumpkin purée (can’t wait for holiday baking season!). The onions and garlic are cured and put away. We’re cleaning out the garden beds between storms, chopping up plants to work back into the soil. While the rain comes down, we sit down and plan our next garden.
Summer 2016 harvest
My husband and I work as a team. He claims I’m the expert while he’s the manual labor. Don’t believe it, though. My version is a little closer to reality. I’m the dreamer, and he’s the realist. The problem with planning a garden with a horticulture major (plant nerd!) is that I want to grow EVERYTHING! His job is to keep me in check. As for the manual labor, I’d say that’s both of us, equally. I haul rocks and dirt just as much as he does. In any case, seed catalogs are my favorite mail, aside from the seeds themselves. Our planning sessions are usually quite entertaining. First, we make a list of the things we want to grow. Next, we look at various varieties of those crops and see how many days to harvest. If it’s less than 90 days, we’re good. We plant our fall garden in September and our winter garden in December … 90 days. So, once we pick out the varieties we want to grow, we decide where we’ll plant them. We use a modified version of square-foot gardening, so I have an excel spreadsheet with our garden beds blocked out on it. We use that as a planning diagram.
Once we have everything plotted out, I begin leafing through the catalogs. That’s when we have issues. It usually goes something like this:
Me: Oooh, ground cherries are less than 90 days. Let’s grow them.
Him: What’s a ground cherry?
Me: It’s a fruit.
Him: What does it taste like?
Me: I don’t know.
Him: Then why would we grow it?
Me: Why not?
Him: What would we do with it?
Me: I’ll figure something out.
Him: What if we don’t like them?
Me: The chickens will be happy.
As I said, I’m the dreamer who wants to grow everything, and he’s the voice of reason. We’ve learned to compromise. I’m allowed to grow one, maybe two, experimental crops per season, and we have to agree upon them.
So, we’ve planned our fall garden, we’ve got the diagram printed out, and we’ve agreed on the crops. We’ve decided to grow white Sonoran wheat, red ripper cowpeas, burgundy pole beans, scarlet runner beans, bush beans, yellow straightneck squash, zucchini, bush pickles (yes, the ones from my previous blog post. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!), Mexican sour gherkins, ground cherries (I won that one!), cilantro, and determinate early tomatoes. We’ll also get our garlic and onions started for next year and the snow peas started for winter, and we still have our pepper bed. Our experimental crops are Mayo Indian amaranth and, of course, the ground cherries (Cossack Pineapple). Now, we just have to wait for the rain to stop so we can go enjoy our gardening adventures in the spirit-crushing humidity left behind. At least our rain barrels are all full, it’s not over 100 degrees anymore, and I get to be barefoot and dirty outside again.
Garden Diagram, Fall 2016
Ghost Chili Wing Sauce
• 1 teaspoon vegetable or olive oil
• 1/2 cup minced onion
• 1/4 cup minced fresh chile peppers (I use serranos)
• 6 ghost chilies, minced
• 6 cloves fresh garlic, minced
• 2 cups water
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 cup white vinegar
1. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, cook onion, fresh chiles, ghost chilies and garlic in oil until onions are translucent, about 4 minutes.
2. Add remaining ingredients, except vinegar, to saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring often.
3. Remove pan from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
4. Pour saucepan contents into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.
5. Add vinegar to mixture. Blend until combined.
6. Pour mixture into a sterilized jar with a lid.
7. Will keep in the refrigerator for 1 year.
The Sky’s the Limit: Vertical Gardening
Make efficient use of your garden space by growing vertically, as well as traditionally.
Many of us garden for food, whether to save money or because we want to know where our food comes from and how it is grown. For some, planning a garden around a hobby can be just as rewarding.
Thinking of Starting a Fall Vegetable Garden? Now’s the time to start!
Here in the Northeast, May is often considered the beginning of the gardening season. It may seem downright strange to start thinking about planting fall crops only a couple of months later, but in short season areas such as ours where first frost dates are less than 3 months away, if you don’t start now, chances are your fall crops won’t have the opportunity to ripen before cooler weather and shorter days set in.