I had a feeling it was coming, and sure enough this morning we had our first frost. I don't presume to pretend I can predict the weather as well as some of the hoary villagers around here, but it does seem as though my gardening activities have me more in touch with the natural world, and I felt the need to instinctually join in with the other animals, like the squirrels scampering around after acorns and chestnuts, in preparing for the winter.
As such, this past week I have been tying up all the loose ends of summer, and readying the garden for winter. One of the most pressing things was to round up the last of the vegetables that were grumbling about the increasing cold and would really not be happy with a proper frost. Unfortunately, this was it:
With a rather cool August and September, I think we only ended up with about five aubergines, though that is an improvement on last year's one. The chilli pepper plants, however, were surprisingly prodigious in their output. We have been tossing one in whatever we happened to be cooking every few days for the past few weeks, and still we had a decent amount remaining on the plants. There were even more than this, in fact, though the rest were green and thus not suitable for drying. Although a lot of the plans for various vegetable processing have not come to fruition, I am happy that at least we ended up with a string of red chillies that can be used to add a bit of summer heat to our winter fare.
It is as simple as threading a large needle with some string, tying a knot in the end, then pushing the needle through the fatter end of the peppers (not the caps, as these may come off as they dry), then hanging them up in an airy place. They actually make for quite good decoration, much better than those strings of chilli pepper lights that plague college dorms and the like.
Although some of the hardier herbs are good to winter over, I also cut back those such as sage, and hung them up in the house in bunches to dry.
As far as the garden itself goes, I have taken out all the tomato plants (finally), as well as the fantastically-failing cauliflower that never grew any larger than a few inches for some bizarre reason, making room for some fall plantings. In early September I sowed some winter brassicas, spinach and other hardy greens, which are intended to go where the tomatoes were, in order to rotate but also as that side of the plot turned out to be shadier than I thought in the summer. These have been struggling along in the sun room, victims I believe of the shortening days, a bit pale and leggy despite the help of a lamp. So I am not so sure how they will survive in the cruel, now frosty, outdoors, even if I put them under plastic, but we will see I guess! As always, this year has been a learning experience, so next year I will know to start the winter greens indoors a bit earlier so that I'm actually at the point of getting them in the ground by end-September, despite what the seed packet calendars say.
If they do in fact make it, part of the greens will be eaten over the winter then make way for the new spring sowings, but some crops for next year actually need to be planted now, for instance the spinach and garlic. That was something I didn't realize last fall, when I simply prepared the earth, then went to plant everything in the spring and was heartbroken to realize my garden would be bereft of these two favorites. Apparently spinach needs cool weather when it is establishing itself or it will bolt, and garlic needs so many days of below a certain temperature (can't remember exactly and can't find where I read this) to form the bulb properly.
Figuring out this calendar of when to sow, plant and how to keep things successional is one of the key elements to becoming more self-sufficient, as it is all well and good to have a productive summer, but you also need to make sure you have something to eat the rest of the year! It also is a reminder that nature does not tolerate procrastination or bad planning. It has been difficult for me this year to realize that a mistake made has consequences for the entire cycle (such as the lack of spinach and garlic), and that once the opportunity has passed that year, you don't have a chance to right your wrong until a full year later. In our modern times of immediateness and often shortsightedness, it is quite a shift of consciousness to macrify one's timescale to that of nature and the seasons, and to accept that it is necessarily going to be a slow learning curve.