This month has been an amazing one for gleaning. My neighbors have offered me so many apples, grapes, various veggies and even eggs, that I seem to have neglected my own gardens. Not to mention the black walnuts and acorns and hazelnuts, the wild grains and greens and fruits that grow as weeds near my house. There has just been so much food coming my way that I seriously questioned why I should actually go to the trouble of starting seeds, weeding, watering, harvesting and processing my own food, since I have so much around me that would otherwise be wasted.
Except that we all need to prepare for the time when there is greater urban competition for wild foods, and when our neighbors realize the useful bounty of their own fruit trees, so gleaning becomes rare. As climate changes disrupt our agricultural system and rising fuel prices disrupt our food transportation, we even need to consider how we will nourish ourselves if food becomes much more expensive. Even now, many neighborhoods have to deal with “food deserts,” where the nearby stores only sell cigarettes, lottery tickets and junk food.
So we still need to plant our own gardens, plant our own fruit trees, learn how to preserve our own harvest. But now we are weeks past the equinox and probably a few frosts into autumn. What to do, now that the growing season is ending?
For starters, it is definitely not too late to plant a fruit tree. Not a bare root tree, of course; those only survive when planted in the spring. And not a bare root tree that has recently been placed in a pot. But if a tree has been container-grown, there is still time to get it in the ground, giving it almost a full year head-start on fruit production. Just make sure that you are buying actual container-grown from a reputable nursery, and keep it well watered until the ground is frozen hard. It should come back nicely in the spring.
You can also plant garlic one or two weeks after the first killing frost. If the plants have a bit of time before the ground freezes solid, they will establish their root systems for next year’s growth. Planting cloves from the grocery store is not recommended, since those varieties don’t usually survive our Minnesota winters.
But a good garden store like Mother Earth Gardens or Southside Farm or EggPlant over in St. Paul will stock the right varieties and can give you the planting information you need to get started.
It is also a wonderful time to think about ground cover for your existing garden. A thick seeding of Dutch white clover or other groundcover will hold the soil after you have harvested your last tomatoes, plus enrich the soil with nutrients you can dig into the plot next spring. Again, check with your local good garden store and they can make recommendations.
If you have never planted a garden before, but you are pretty sure you want to plant one next year, consider starting to compost now. Compost is the rich decayed plant material that becomes a perfect fertilizer. You can make your own compost with kitchen scraps and weeds and grass clippings and autumn leaves, mixed with a little dirt and left in an outside space about one yard on each side. Consider buying one of those black composters from Eureka Recycling (612-222-7678), Mother Earth Gardens (612-724-2296) or Linden Hills Natural Home (612-279-2479). There are rough formulas for fast composting. Put in about three or four parts leaves to one part food scraps, and give it a bit of water from time to time. Mulching up the leaves with your mower makes things go quicker. If your compost pile starts to stink, add more leaves and less garbage, and cut back on the water quite a bit. But don’t let the science of composting scare you; if you don’t do it “right,” about the worst thing that can happen is that it just takes a little longer to become finished compost, no longer containing any recognizable scraps and smelling like good black earth.
If you really get into it, you may even want to add worm composting under your kitchen sink or in your basement, for when the outside pile is frozen. The slender book “The Worms Ate My Garbage” is an excellent place to start, and several different models of worm composting systems are also sold at the stores above.
Having said all this, however, I should end by saying that the experienced gardeners I have known just realize that winter is a time for rest. After the last bell pepper is dehydrated, after the last cider is squeezed, after the last jam has been put up in jars, it is time to rest. Read gardening books. Sketch out your dreams for next year’s produce. E-mail or write away for few good gardening catalogs. Sit in front of the fireplace (or just at the kitchen table facing your sweetie) and enjoy the food you grew in the summer.
Last, here’s the calendar:
Oct. 4, 6 to 7:30 p.m. Free but RSVP required.
“Fall yard and garden care,” Linden Hills Library,
2900 W. 43rd St., Mpls. 612-543-6825 or
Oct. 4, 6 to 8:30 p.m. Free but RSVP required.
“Fall yard and garden care,” Pierre Bottineau Library,
55 Broadway St. N.E., Mpls. 612-543-8650 or
Oct. 6, 10:30 a.m. to noon. Free but RSVP required.
“Pruning trees and shrubs,” Excelsior Library, 343 Third St.,
Excelsior. 612-543-6350 or
Oct. 6, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Free. “Edible landscapes,”
Augsburg Park Library, 7100 Nicollet Ave.,
Richfield. 612-543-6200 or
Oct. 6, 1 to 2:30 p.m. Free but RSVP required.
“Fall yard and garden care,” Brooklyn
Park Library, 8600 Zane Ave.,
Brooklyn Park. 612-543-6225 or
Oct. 6, 9:30 a.m. to noon. “Home composting workshop,“
Pratt School, 66 Malcolm Ave. S.E.,
Mpls. Register at 612-668-1100
Oct. 7, 10 a.m. to noon. $18.
“Compost and soil preparation,”
Mississippi Market, 1500 W. 7th St., St Paul.
Oct. 10, 6 to 8 p.m. $15.
“Growing and cooking with herbs,”
Roosevelt High, 4029 28th Ave. S., Mpls.
Register at 612-668-4828 or
Oct. 11, 6 to 7:30 p.m., Free but RSVP required.
“Pruning trees and shrubs,” Linden Hills Library, 2900 W. 43rd St., Mpls.
612-543-6825 or w
Oct. 13, 3 to 4:30 p.m. Free.
“Growing herbs in Minnesota,”
Southeast Library, 1222 4th St. S.E., Mpls. 612-543-6725
Oct. 14, 1 to 2:30 p.m. $25.
“Learn to brew your own kombucha,” EggPlant Urban Farm Supply, 1771 Selby Ave., St Paul.
651-645-0818 or www.eggplantsupply.com/Classes.html
Oct. 21, 1 to 3 p.m. $25. “Fermentation,”
EggPlant Urban Farm Supply, 1771 Selby Ave., St Paul.
651-645-0818 or www.eggplantsupply.com/Classes.html