Autumn Garden: Harvesting, Planting, Sustaining and Eating


autumn garden with potatoes

Photo by Monte Larson

Six a.m. The thermometer reads 18 degrees. Quaking aspen leaves whirl in a gust of wind. Frost laces the pasture. We begin our morning work in the garden, which just a few weeks ago boasted an abundance of crops. Now many annuals have died. Perennials have gone dormant. Yet, much of our garden still thrives.

Before becoming homesteaders, we accepted the notion of short-season gardening. Based on the USDA hardiness zone map, the growing season in our area extends from late May to mid-September. Beyond that, we assumed the only way to garden involved greenhouses or cold frames.

Our first few years on the homestead, we spent several weeks each fall bottling, drying, freezing, and storing. In addition to all our other tasks, we became overwhelmed. In order to make this way of life sustainable, we needed to adjust how much time we allotted to processing food.

We still put up crops for the winter. Few aspects of our DIY life are more satisfying than the products of food preservation: mason jars filled with peaches and pears, dried lemon verbena, rehydrated tomatoes in a winter stew. Yet, over the years, we’ve become more selective about what and how we preserve. The main questions we ask ourselves are how much we enjoy the preserved product and how much time we’re willing to invest in the process.

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