Fall is the greatest time for cool loving plants like those in the cabbage and spinach families. Warm, sunny days topped with nights in the 30’s and 40’s make for sweet, crispy leaf vegetables like kale, chard, and lettuce. Root veggies like carrot, beets, parsnip, radish, turnip, and rutabaga also appreciate the cool weather as their roots sweeten up with every night we get closer to 32 degrees.
Not all the veggies in our fall garden appreciate the cold. The night shade family (tomato, pepper, and husk cherry) is near its bitter end and they are trying desperately to ripen their fruits before the inevitable “killing frost”.
If the “kill frost” shows up before our crops are fully mature, which it often does in this region, the modern farmer has tools to extend the season and protect those crops. We use two different thicknesses of row covers, or fabrics that we can drape over plants and protect to about 18 degrees Fahrenheit. We will also be using greenhouse plastic, windows, and anything else we can get our hands on to add a barrier between the precious food and the harsh elements.
Our high tunnel, or hoop house is an entire structure dedicated to using the sun’s energy to create an environment that is much warmer and suitable for veggies that can be used all year long. It differs from a green house in that it does not have any sort of machinery to control the climate (i.e. heaters, (de)humidifiers, fans). If the sun is not out, it is around the same temperature inside the high tunnel as outside. We recently moved our high tunnel structure to the outside of the garden fence to create more growing space, but most importantly to orientate it to our southern, winter sun exposure. This should ensure we have crops growing all winter long, can protect less then hardy perennials like rosemary, but also get a head start on the season come next spring.
Even as the season seems to be coming to a close, we are still adding things to our beds in preparation for winter. Depending on the timing, we may plant “cover crop” like vetch, rye, or oats to keep the soil “alive” all winter long and give it an abundance of organic matter come spring time. If there is no time to plant cover crop, we simply add mulch, like leaves or straw to the beds to keep the soil insulated in order to prolong the lives of beneficial microbes and worms within the soil as well as protecting the top soil from the harsh winter elements. By next spring we can remove any of the mulch that has not decomposed and add it to our compost pile or simply mulch something else.
Seed saving is in full swing this time of year with crops that were strategically allowed to fully mature into their reproductive stage of their lives, in order to produce the most valuable crop in the garden…SEEDS! Seeds are everything to a vegetable gardener, without them there would not be a garden to speak of. Our seed saving regimen has proven to be extremely valuable, by not only saving us money each year on seeds, but we actually find our crops performing better and better every year we continue their legacy. We feel the plants adapt to our particular soil, weather, and insects and develops greater resiliency every year.
This is also the time of year we start harvesting and drying herbs for culinary use, teas, and plant preparations used in our biodynamic farming method. Chamomile, yarrow, valerian, dandelion, horsetail, and nettles are all being dried ahead of next year’s biodynamic preparations.
If you have questions about biodynamics or any of our other farming techniques and philosophies please do not hesitate to ask our farmer, Derrick Braun.