Kachemak Gardener: Arrival of fall brings relief after frenetic summer

After the most frenetic summer within recent memory the slow but sure arrival of fall is a relief.

This week has been spent turning the most recent pile of compost and spreading the finished material on the vegetable beds. The wood stove provided a small bucket of ashes that will be spread along with the compost. The long handled cultivator will be put to use incorporating both materials into the top few inches of the soil. We retired the rototiller many years ago.

The vegetable beds are raised with 8-inch boards. This gives them permanent shape — no wrestling a tiller and reshaping the beds every year. You can make your beds whatever size and height you want: whatever works for you. The 8-inch height and 3-foot width is convenient for me. I’m short, which puts me close to the ground in the first place and a 3-foot span is a comfortable reach. When forming your own beds, leave enough space between them to get the lawn mower down the path. I like grass in the path; it’s clean and neat. A weed trimmer will keep the edges tidy.

I’m giving you this information now just in case you don’t have raised beds already. Now is the time to get them in, not in the spring when you should be spending your time planting, not building your plot.

Same goes for a greenhouse. Let me caution you right now: they are a lot of work. You have to really and truly want one. That said, now is the time to get one up and ready to go for the spring planting. You will be grateful come April/May that all is said and done.

Ours is ready now. Really. The bins are filled with fresh compost. We change it out every year. The floor is swept, walls are clean, ready to go come April.

Which brings me to ripening tomatoes. You are running out of time for ripe fruit. Cut the plant at the base and hang it upside down in a cool, dry place. As the tomatoes ripen you can just pluck what you need. If you don’t have the space or inclination to pull this off, line your window sills/ kitchen counter/pantry shelves with tomatoes. Or — eat green tomatoes.

If your tomatoes are in the house growing in pots they could keep going all winter. You might want to top the plant. Cut off as much as you want from the top to keep it from growing any taller. Be sure to shake the plant to fertilize any new blooms. You could be getting tomatoes well into winter. The shortening days will interfere with production but the plant will perk up again as the days lengthen. Good luck with that.

The perennials are bidding farewell at varying times. It seems that the bleeding hearts (which are very finished) and ulmaria filipendula (which isn’t) all went down at the same time. I have pulled the supports anyway, bent the bleeding hearts down to create their own mulch, and kept a string around the filipendula until it decides to go to sleep. I don’t want to be caught with supports frozen into the ground and have to look at them for the entire very long winter.

The perennial beds are also interesting. The peonies are barely showing a color change. These beauties, once they give up, need to be cut to the ground and their spent leaves removed. There is the danger of botrytis developing and that would be the end of your peonies. Be over cautious.

The cranberry cosmos, astrantia and California poppies “Bridal Bouquet” are still lovely. Can’t argue with that. There will be more of these next year.

I mentioned that I cut down the delphiniums this year, something I have never done before, and I’m not completely comfortable with this, so I tossed some leaves on top of the crowns to offer some protection not only from cold but from the rain. Because they have a hollow stem, a persistent rain can go straight to the crown and rot will destroy it. I brought the Pacific Giants with me from the house out East 21 years ago and I really don’t want to lose them. We’ll see what happens. That’s gardening.

The lawn may have been mowed for the last time. John puts the blade up; going into the winter a bit longer has proven successful for us. We start the new season with healthy green grass instead of a brown disappointment. The mower is still in action, however. We don’t rake the leaves under the deciduous trees and shrubs., John runs the mower over them, letting them return to the soil and offer nutrients to the trees from whence they came. It seems to work.

There isn’t a gardener out there this year who isn’t amazed and astounded by the size of their beets and carrots. Not only are they huge, but they are tasty, not woody. Excellent. And the apples. Oh my goodness, the apples. My funny little columnar tree “North Pole” is so loaded. To actually walk past that tree and grab an apple, sit on the greenhouse deck in the sun, and eat it is an amazing experience. I’m leaving them on the tree as long as I can so they ripen as much as possible. Those of you who have more appropriate varieties are giving apples away, making sauce, pies, crumbles — you name it. This is apple time.

Keep gardening; the season isn’t over.

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener and has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.

Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick                                 Jane Wiebe’s wheelbarrow of lovely tubers will cause any potato aficionado’s heart to sing. The photo was taken on Oct. 7 in Homer.

Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick Jane Wiebe’s wheelbarrow of lovely tubers will cause any potato aficionado’s heart to sing. The photo was taken on Oct. 7 in Homer.