by guest blogger Tim Mountz of Happy Cat Farm
Most people are shocked to find out that someone whose nickname is Timato loves October and fall so much. But alas, it is true.
Come October, the tomatoes fade to a thin specter of their midsummer glory, and by the end of the month they are gone, not to return for another nine months. Oh, the lament of a tomato farmer. But all is not lost. The great wheel spins and we move on to fall planting, filling our days with foraging, preserving, seed cleaning, and enjoying what the new season brings. The humidity drops, and I stand at the threshold of the farm and wave good-bye to the moist air, knowing all too well that it will return soon.
It's not that I don't miss summer or my careless two-hour lunches by the Brandywine River. But fall is such a great time to be in the garden, with its bounty of produce, the return of much-needed rain, and the disappearance of bugs and weeds. Everything seems to slow down and say, "Go ahead, grow what you want; we're done."
Right now, the chili peppers are really hitting their stride. While most of them started to ripen in September, they are heat-loving, long-season plants. They started as seeds almost nine months ago, but it is well worth the wait when you eat your first fiery bite. Some of my favorite varieties are Pasilla Bajio, a long smoky flavored chile that turns from dark green to almost black when it is ready to pick and eat. Trinidad Seasoning chiles, with their small bright yellow caps and crazy intense chili flavor and zero heat, are just amazing. And a friend brought me a bunch of Green Indian Fingers seeds from a trip he took to India a while back, and I have been in love with that variety ever since.
But for me, the best part of fall gardening is planting greens.
Besides wearing long sleeves and farming under the Harvest Moon, growing greens is my favorite part of fall gardening. I think it is absolutely brilliant how, with a small bit of work and some simple protection, you can grow greens and radishes deep into the winter months.
We start reseeding greens in late August and continue until the middle of October. Right now, we're planting tons of mustard greens, arugula, and radishes, all of which taste so different after they get hit with cool nighttime temperatures, you will not even recognize them from their summertime counterparts.
All you need to have a successful fall/winter garden are some row covers, which are made from a very thin material that covers the crops, keeping out any late-season bugs, as well as protecting them from an early frost. You may have to take the cover off during the day, since we can still get into the 80s, but it's worth it to be able to eat fresh greens in December. As the temperatures get close to freezing you may have to add another layer to protect them, but these crops love the cold and will live so much longer than you could ever imagine.
Happy fall gardening!
Tim and his wife, Amy, own Happy Cat Farm, an organic farm and lifestyle brand located just outside of Kennett Square, PA [www.happycatorganics.com].
For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com