The gardening season has been quite productive this year, with lots of summer and winter squash, a fair amount of tomatoes and plenty of beets, beans, broccoli and cabbage to freeze, can or store for the autumn and winter months ahead.

This was surely the year of the winter squash and pumpkin. The winter squash are stored in a cool, dry place for use during the next few months, and the pumpkins are decorating various parts of the yard and door entrances. Don’t store squash or pumpkins anyplace that might freeze, but rather in an unheated bedroom or hall. A bright orange pumpkin wherever placed outside always brings a big smile.

But as the green leaves of summer slowly turn into the bright reds, golds and oranges of autumn, lots of gardening work must be done, so when those warmer late April or early May days arrive next year, we can begin the process all over again.

Gardeners are optimists. We have to be. Sometimes a new experiment works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, a gardening year brings an abundance of squash and corn, as it did this year, while it is less than generous with other vegetables.

Sometimes we can’t get some crops to grow, and at other times, the volunteers are amazing. That’s the case with this year’s winter squash crop.

In addition to the abundance of intentionally planted delicata, sweet dumpling and acorn winter squashes, some seeds from somewhere planted themselves and produced winter butternut and summer patty pan squash in abundance.

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The beans produced just the right amount to can, and some tomatoes are still outside waiting to come in and be canned too.

The parsley and basil did well. We have plenty of frozen parsley for adding to soups and stews, and we’ve made several packages of pesto for adding to almost any dish during the winter months. We have more green and hot peppers than we know what to do with or to give away. Several packages of corn, still in their husks, are frozen so we’ll have a few special corn-on-the-cob treats in mid-winter.

Carrots are still in the ground, as are the beets. Those will be the last to be harvested and stored this year. I’ve decided to cover the parsnips with hay, then dig them up in the spring.

On the other hand, the gourds did nothing. But that was just about the only crop that failed this year.

As we prepare our homes for winter, it’s also time to prepare the garden for its much-needed rest.

The best way to get going relatively early in the spring is to do a thorough job of cleaning up the garden in the fall. Also, if more beds are wanted for next season, build them now and fill them with soil so they’ll be ready to plant when the first warm days appear.

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Other things to think about as we “put the garden to bed,” include:

* Plant some milkweeds away from the garden to draw monarch butterflies;

* Build those extra beds;

* Clean up the gardening tools, and oil them;

* Start a compost pile if none is available right now: Place garden debris, leaves and grass in it, along with kitchen vegetable wastes, place soil between layers, and don’t add diseased plants;

* Survey the garden for possible expansion or reduction next year — drawing plans on graph paper often helps meet our gardening goals;

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* Remove as much of the weeds and grass from the garden as possible — it will save lots of weeding when the 2016 garden is planted;

* If some seeds weren’t planted this year, survey what’s available for next year. Most seeds will do well a year or two after the deadline date printed on the packet. Seed catalogs will likely start arriving in the next month or two so you’ll be ready when they do;

* Although my experiment planting in hay/straw bales didn’t produce an overwhelming abundance of vegetables, I will try again next year. I like the idea, and I think with a little more care I may be more successful;

* Create a fall bouquet with some of those lovely milkweed pods that are now releasing their “fuzz” and any other late autumn blooms.

And most of all, be thankful for all that the magical earth has provided this year.

I’ll be back in March with more information on getting started for another magical year of growing some of our own food.

Eileen M. Adams has been gardening for decades. She likes to try different methods and different vegetables, and is always amazed by just how much the magical earth can provide. She may be reached at [email protected]idmaine.com


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