As I write this, I am sitting in front of an open window, enjoying the pleasant coolness of the very early morning thanks to a 5 AM wake up call by my 3 year old. She’s gone back to sleep, thank God, but I remained awake and thought I’d get something more useful than lying in bed trying in vain to go to back to sleep. As my mother reminds me, just as soon as she starts sleeping to a reasonable hour in the morning, she’ll become difficult to wake up in the morning.
This column is about gardening, not children, though. The first frost will arrive within the next month, and it’s time to think about preparing for it. Open windows at 5 AM will no longer be pleasant, and fresh from the garden tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers will be gone for another season. I’ll have to fill my girls with as many cucumbers as possible before they are gone. If you grow cucumbers, you know that they grow from tender, edible vegetables into tough behemoths overnight, and the chickens have certainly enjoyed eating the overgrown ones.
If the first frost finds you fortunate enough to have green tomatoes on the vine, pick them before frost touches them, wrap them in newspaper, and store them in an unheated, but above freezing, area. It’s easy to preserve bell peppers by chopping them and sautéing them briefly, then freezing them. Try to lay the bag flat in the freezer, and to move the peppers around a bit so they don’t freeze into one huge ball. When your recipe calls for chopped cooked peppers, use some of yours from the summer.
Although I have enjoyed the abundance of lima beans this summer, they do take a very long time to shell. My daughters and I shelled about 1 ½ quarts of lima beans last week, and with their help, which was actual help, not hindrance, it took us about 30 minutes. Do not complain to farmers at the market about the cost of shelled lima beans. I will be glad for a break from shelling lima beans; I can’t stop picking them until frost comes because I do love to eat them.
My sweet potatoes have taken over the garden. At the beginning of the summer, a rabbit nibbled the new vines. I believe he even dug a home for himself near a hole created by a rotting tree stump near some asparagus. He didn’t do any serious damage to my garden, and now he’s too fat to get through the wire into the garden. We enjoy seeing a real “Peter Rabbit” in the yard, and his cuteness, and lack of serious damage to any plants, saved him. Before the first frost, I’ll dig my sweet potatoes. Temperatures much below 50°F damage the tubers, so I’ll get them out of the ground within the next couple of weeks, let them air dry for a week or so in the garage as long as temperatures stay warm, and then I’ll store them inside the house in a dark closet.
I’ll also take cuttings of coleus, geraniums, and other tender annuals that I will root in water and then transfer to soil and save over the winter. My husband does enjoy having an empty tub in our bathroom in the summer, when all the houseplants go outside for a vacation, but I’ll soon fill it, which is positioned in front of a south-facing glass block window, with houseplants and other tender plants I hope to protect throughout the winter.
Go ahead now and find a place for the houseplants indoors, and spray them with water to remove the insects that might have found a home in them for the summer. Shake them to remove dead leaves, and repot any that need it. Plan for the arrival of the first frost, and that way, the night before the frost will find you relaxed instead of dashing about in the twilight, filling your entryway with plants, and picking vegetables you are desperately trying to save.