Signs of Fall 11/5/2017

Fall is underway. It’s not quite going strong but it’s getting there. It’s been a joy to go outside with coffee and stand in front of the loquat tree watching all of the little insects flitter about getting their breakfast. Monarch butterflies are migrating and the little beauties are stopping by the yard to get a snack and rest before they continue their journey south.

The cold killing frosts are typically the end of November here and This may be the first year that we don’t have completely bare spots in the landscape. The goal has always been to have a green yard in winter, a primarily edible landscape, and flowers all year round. The edible part wasn’t too hard to figure out with fruit trees and herbs. Last year quite a lot of effort was spent to pull off the green-in-winter part. This year just may be the year where flowers can become the focus (after figuring out and filling in the remaining brown spots).

Most things still look fairly similar in the back yard from summer. The peach and pomegranate tree are starting to turn a little yellow and of course the orange fruit on the persimmons is a dead giveaway fall is here also.

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Little native asters are in the grass covering our lawn. I always leave and encourage the wild flowers in the grass in our back yard. Not only are they beautiful, but the honey bees love them. Sometimes I like to lay on the back deck with a drink and just watch the honeybees fly from one flower cluster to another. They help me with pollinating peppers, so the least I can do is encourage other food sources for them so they have a reason to visit frequently and often.

It was unpleasant to think that this year, the first year the loquat tree bloomed, will likely be a harsh winter and kill all the buds/fruit on our loquat tree. But today, watching all the little insects get a meal, I realized that feeding the bees and the butterflies was enough for me this year. Even if we don’t get one fruit out of the hundreds of flowers on that tree I am enjoying providing for the little animals out here. The joy of watching them this fall can be enough if there is no fruit to be had.

There was an iridescent blue bee (google told me it’s an orchard mason bee) and a hummingbird moth that were too quick for me to snap a photo of but here is what they looked like:

All of the little cute insects and animals that visit beautiful flowers we plant is something that gives me so much pleasure. It’s so nice to watch butterflies and honey bees visiting a fruit tree that you have planted and taken care of. It feels wonderful like being  a steward of nature. Encouraging the wildlife that you love to come a little closer and say “hi” so you can observe it. It feels like being in a butterfly sanctuary standing next to the loquat tree, at any given time there are at least 12 butterflies flying all around you in the air and resting on a cluster of flowers nearby.

Nothing will ever be perfect in a garden. Nature is not perfect. There is always an unfinished spot in the yard, a work in progress, or a failure to be seen. It’s easy to focus on those things. People that truly love nature and gardening have the capacity to find that flower that’s blooming and focus on its beauty even if it’s sitting in a bed that needs to desperately be weeded. To watch bees fly from one dandelion to the next and smile even if it’s in your lawn. If you love nature, you can find beauty everywhere.

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Preparing For the Cold Front 10/28/2017

Temperatures predicted in the 30’s!? That’s unseasonably cold here. The first year I had a garden here we picked peppers clear through November. The third year they made it through the winter and I had mini pepper trees. This year a cold front of two days in the 30’s is threatening my summer eggplants, tomatoes and peppers that I’m trying to keep producing until the end of November. I don’t generally trust future weather reports until the day before. Weather underground still says 39 degrees and a news report said mid 30’s tonight. Time to make some preparations.

Yesterday was spent picking all the fruit from the plants that needed salvaging, then figuring out how to preserve them. That, and digging up any plants I wanted to save for the winter. The farmers almanac predicted this year to have a colder winter than average. Considering the past two winters have been extremely mild and above average I’m guessing this one is going to be a nasty winter where I’ll be learning what is, and is not, truly cold hardy for this climate.

The majority of what is out there right now will be fine in the cold it’s really just the three lovely nightshade beauties that I wanted to save; peppers, tomatoes and eggplants.

Preparations

  • Chile Pequin Pepper – This native has the ability to die down to the ground and come back again. Not sure what temperature ruins the fruit so In an effort to be diligent I picked another large batch of these guys to preserve and a few berries for seeds to try to grow more of these plants just in case. If the seeds germinate and I get new bushes I’ve got a spot in the front yard for them.IMG_9777
  • Tomatoes – All of the tomatoes I have are of the indeterminate variety meaning they give you some tomatoes over the span of their life rather than determinate tomatoes which give you a ton of fruit all at once and are then done. I cut them back in late July and they have set fruit but hardly any are ripe though they are approximately the mature size. None of them even have a tinge of pink. I decided to pick all the fruit that were larger than a half dollar and take them inside to preserve either by ripening in a dark place, or more likely, making green tomato something with them.

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  • Hot Peppers – Picked all the peppers that were useable size even if they were a little immature. Here’s hoping the little stumps of pepper that were just starting to grow will make it and that the plant will continue flowering. Below on the top there’s a pile of our hot peppers garden salsa variety (or favorite) the bottom left is mostly mature serrano peppers only one fat one. and the bottom right are called cow horn peppers which were an experiment this year. I decided to freeze them to make hot pepper jelly a little later on.

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  • Eggplant – I’d already made baba ganoush with the last ripe eggplants we’ll probably see for the season.

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  • Bush beans – I don’t really know how cold bush beans can withstand. In Washington they were a late spring/summer plant that was ripped out when it stopped producing at some point in fall. Fall planting of beans is completely new to me so just to be on the safe side all the beans that weren’t very tiny were picked. While I was out there I also picked the dried tepiary beans and some radishes that were ready.

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  • Cuttings – I took another round of cuttings from plants like the pineapple sage and lemon verbena to try to propagate additional plants. Here’s how to propagate your own plants from cuttings.

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Pretty much everything else is cold weather hardy. No need to worry about the garlic, greens, cruciferous plants like kohlrabi and cauliflower. Double checking the pineapple gauva gave me three extra fruit. The fig tree has immature fruit which I considered picking and pickling but the fruit in a sugar syrup. This works well for 3/4 ripe figs. However mine were still so tiny and rock hard that it didn’t seem like they would taste very good so they got to stay on the tree.

Protection

We have two large plankets that are 10X20 which are the main defense available against cold weather so I wrapped the plants up as best as I could and hoped for the best. To do this I used binder clips to secure planket to the cattle panel trellis or the wire low fence surrounding around all my beds to keep out the neighborhood cat.

 

In addition to covering the summer producing crops, it’s about time to bring in plants for the winter to save every year from the cold weather. There’s only a few sensitive plants that are worth babying for us. Generally if it won’t make it through the winter I don’t want it in the yard. My personal exceptions are:

  • One huge pot of aloe which has helped with my many sun burns and cooking burns from the oven or stove.
  • A chunk of lemon grass to carry forward from year to year so I don’t need to repurchase it again.
  • One banana incase the other’s don’t make it. (generally they die down to the ground but come spring they pop back up).
  • My pineapple top experiment
  • One paddle from a spineless opituna cactus (I love prickly pear fruit).
  • One lemon verbena. The smell made by this plant is near and dear to my heart even though it’s not the most beautiful thing in the world.

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The opituna is hiding in the back, I’ll have to give it a more prominent sunny position. I also replanted a little of the aloe as insurance in case the large pot was somehow unable to be brought in.
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With the help of my husband, we got the large half whiskey barrel of aloe inside which was surprisingly heavy. The other pots were small so it was easy to move them myself. They now sit where they will stay until spring when the danger of the last frost has left. Inside by some windows in our breakfast nook. Mr. cat has enjoyed swatting at the lemon grass stems and chewing on the ends of the plant.

Now all that’s left to do is to prepare the food that was brought in.

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