As the Delaware River Valley takes on subtle shades of fall color, many gardeners experience mixed feelings about the end of another growing season. There’s less work ahead in the colder months, but also less access to fresh, local food and other garden bounty.
Fortunately, there’s still time to enjoy the fruits of your gardening labors. In fact, if your motivations for gardening include not only having access to delicious, healthy food, but also making your lifestyle more financially sustainable by reducing what you need to buy, fall is a great time to double-down on your sustainable lifestyle goals.
Sustainable Fall Garden Tasks
- Plant fall crops. You can extend your ability to eat what you grow by planting a fall crop of lettuce or other leafy greens. While it’s probably ideal to start with seed in late August or early September, you may still be able to get away with using starter plants if you can find them at local nurseries (or from a friend’s garden). You may even be able to keep the greens growing all winter by rigging up a basic “greenhouse.” Alternatives include using old windows or glass doors as covers for raised garden beds, placing thin plastic sheeting over plants or using PVC piping and sheeting to create small “hoop houses.”
- Make household items and gifts. Your fall garden may offer a number of DIY opportunities that can reduce what you need to buy for yourself or those on your holiday gift list. ROSE WATER. You can save more than $8 (per 8 fl.oz. bottle) on this natural skin cleanser by simply boiling and simmering rose petals and bottling the water. You may want to add glisterin or other natural ingredients. Keep a few bottles in the refrigerator and pull them out, as needed, throughout the year. LAVENDER PRODUCTS. While you may want to do most of your lavender harvesting in the spring, this beautiful plant gets a second wind in early fall. The easiest way to enjoy your lavender indoors is to clip the stems for bouquets. You can crumble your harvested lavender for use in sachets or eye pads. And if you have trouble sleeping through the night, you can try making your own lavender essence with lavender buds and olive, sesame or safflower oil. A few drops in a vaporizer provide a great natural sleep aid. DECORATIONS FOR YOUR HOME, HOLIDAYS & DINNER PARTIES. Your decaying garden may be full of items with innate design possibilities. Pine cones, acorns and other plant refuse are the stuff of many a great arts-and-crafts project. For example, you can string together acorns to make napkin holders or garlands. You can tie together bundles of corn stalks to decorate a fence or front entrance. If you grow pumpkins or other large squash, you can save a few for Halloween decor. And you can make long-lasting bouquets with dried sedum, roses, hydrangea, fennel flowers and myriad other flowering plants.
3. Stock the cupboard. Fall is the time to stretch your harvest as far as possible through a variety of age-old food-processing techniques. TOMATO SAUCE.Consider spending a crisp weekend afternoon making marinara with any tomatoes you were smart enough to freeze at the end of August. If you don’t have a device for peeling and seeding, you’ll need to undertake that messy task by hand. Recipes for marinara can be as simple as simmering garlic and crushed tomatoes in a good virgin olive oil. KETCHUP. Making this simple condiment can take time. But in addition to giving you another staple to cross off the food-shopping list, homemade ketchup can offer fresh flavor from your own pesticide-free plants. DRIED HERBS. Culinary herbs can be harvested from spring through late fall. You can dry them in small bundles inside and later crumble the dried leaves into a bowl before transferring to small glass jars. BERRIES. If your berry bushes are still producing, consider freezing the harvest. You can later defrost for use in baked goods, pancakes or even a nice duck sauce. If you’re up for the task, try making some home-made berry jams.
A few sites to get you started: