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autumn

frosted broccoli in a home kitchen garden

After harvesting a few pathetic miniature broccoli crowns from my home kitchen garden, I left the plants to continue growing and harvested a few meals’ side shoots. While the harvest was very disappointing, the plants’ growth was impressive. The largest grew more than eight feet tall. Frost found a few florets on that first cold night and glittered in the early morning sun.

My home kitchen garden is shot. We’ve had some frost and we’ve had a few deep freezes. This year, I felt no panic about frost; I’ve been overwhelmed with tomatoes and chili peppers so I was kind of looking forward to a night cold enough to shut it all down.

On the morning after that night, I shot a few photos. They capture what I love about the first frost in my home kitchen garden.

frosted broccoli flowers in a home kitchen garden

Broccoli flowers attracted pollinators through much of the season. The first frost of autumn looked a bit like an aphid infestation on the stems supporting the blossoms.

 

frosted squash leaves in a home kitchen garden

The winter squash plants on that first freezing morning of autumn in my home kitchen garden looked as though they were forged from ice.

 

frosted squash leaf tips in a home kitchen garden

The leaf bud end of a winter squash vine looked otherworldly with a crystalline growth encasing it.

 

dead squash patch in a home kitchen garden

Hours after the frost melted, the tomato, pepper, bean, and squash leaves in my home kitchen garden were limp and discolored. One day earlier, this section of the planting bed had lain under a dense canopy of winter squash leaves. Only weeds survived the cold night.

 

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I was astonished—and annoyed—to find ripe-and-ready woodland strawberries among the weeds in my home kitchen garden. The woodland strawberries around here are flavorless and dry which makes these volunteers “invasive weeds.” Ripe strawberries in November? Not in central Pennsylvania… until this year.

I planted a salad mix of lettuce seeds in September. Despite several frosts and one or two freezes, there are some beautiful leaves ready to harvest.

My home kitchen garden has seen a particularly mild autumn. We’ve had only ten nights with frost, and none colder than 26F. While the few cold nights killed off my tomato and basil plants, the dill weed still paints a wall of deep, frilly green at one end of my planting bed, and a small lettuce patch planted in late summer is calling me to harvest.

 

No surprise: There is still oregano. I added one plant about four years ago. Now there’s a five-foot diameter circle of oregano from which I use a few dozen sprigs each year.

For at least two weeks, I’ve intended to put the garden to bed. The last thing I figure to do each season is toss fallen leaves from my lawn onto the planting bed. When my wife put the kids on alert that this weekend they’d rake the yard, I knew I had to end my procrastination. The few things I did:

  • Cut the ties that supported my dead tomato stalks against the tomato stakes
  • Pulled the dead tomato plants and tossed them on the compost heap
  • Pulled the tomato stakes and leaned them against the side of the house (they may make it into the shed before snow falls)
  • A few tomatoes are trying to escape the garden. They lay waiting under cover of dandelions, hoping I’ll get careless and leave the rodent fence down.

  • Pulled the stakes that supported the last pea trellis; I’d left one of three pea trellises standing to support a late planting—too late a planting: the young peas froze though some of the plants continued to grow
  • Dug out a few of the largest, hairiest weeds… mostly so I could see what types of roots they had
  • Inspected the awesome dandelion crop and surveyed the undergrowth for anything unusual
  • Collected gardening tools I’d conveniently stored in the garden through the season and leaned them against the house
  • Opened several panels in the rodent fence so it’d be easy to rake leaves into the garden

Free Mulch for my Home Kitchen Garden

After lunch today, the kids raked the leaves and moved all of them into the garden. They spread the leaves over all the weeds, right up to—but not covering—the perennials I want to preserve. They also left the lettuce poking through. Most obviously: they didn’t cover the dill; they didn’t have enough leaves to cover the dill.

There is still coriander; I’d hoped it would re-seed itself, but this year it didn’t. Hours after I took this picture, I saw two juncos plucking the seeds off the dried plants.

So, the garden is in bed for the winter. Snuggled under about a foot of dead leaves, the dandelion greens may rot a little, or they may go dormant and enjoy the soft cover. Whatever the verdict in the spring, I know I’ll be digging deep to pull weeds as I prepare to plant my home kitchen garden.

I was surprised even more than by the strawberries to find this critter on one of my tomato stakes. I thought these things flew south for the winter; this one must be waiting for cheap fares.

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