Today was the first morning with a hard, killing frost up in Leavenworth. It was a little bit of a surprise and also right on time. There’s no denying it, fall is here. The reality of it has been a hard pill for me to swallow, especially this year.
I farmed much less than normal and have been feeling fairly disconnected from the cycles and the seasons now that I spend most of my days working indoors instead of out in the field. It makes me want to fight all that much harder to hold on to the last vestiges of fresh fruits and vegetables before they are all gone under a cold blanket of snow.
Some things are easier than others to coax into storage. The pears on my porch won’t even be ready to eat for another month. I am grateful for this delay in gratification. They will feel like a treat when I pack my November lunches. I’ll think back on the sunny warm day in September when I discovered that abandoned tree, its branches hanging heavy with perfect and forgotten fruit.
I won’t really do anything special to store this windfall of free pears. I will hold them in a cardboard box and I will keep them cold but not frozen. Every couple of days I will examine them to be sure they are free from rodents and give them a little squeeze and see if they are starting to ripen.
The tomatoes are a more difficult matter. Our frost was hard enough that even pulling the remaining fruit indoors to finish ripening may prove to be a messy waste of time. I will load up another cardboard box with any that seem suitable for ripening and will keep them on my heated kitchen floor.
Every few days I will examine the tomatoes and will remove any that are ready to eat and will place them on the counter. Any that are starting to mold I will toss, and any that are not ripe I will leave alone.
My husband has already pulled most of the onions and has laid them out to dry inside of the greenhouse. Once the tops are dry, he’ll snip them off with scissors, leaving a 1- or 2-inch stub at the top. Any onions with tops that refuse to dry down or are threatening to re-sprout he’ll sort into a pile for immediate consumption. The rest will get sorted by size into mesh bags and will be stored in a cool, dark location until we are ready to use them.
The onions will feed us well into the late spring. We’ll examine the bags regularly and will remove any that are starting to rot. More likely than not, they will all be eaten before decay becomes a problem.
Another hard freeze is sure to arrive and we’ll take the time to bring some leafy greens and herbs indoors before that happens. My husband will pull the carrots and set them out still dirty for a day or two to dry a bit before packing them into plastic totes and placing them in the fridge. He’ll leave the potatoes dirty too and will pack them up just like the carrots. We’ll hang the garlic in the back room and we’ll finish canning the green tomatoes into salsa verde.
We’ll most certainly run out of time to get everything done and we’ll lament all the things we couldn’t do. And then we’ll rest.
I sincerely hope your gardening season was a productive one. Happy fall, and happy gardening!
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Eron Drew is one of four columnists featured.