September in the Garden

September is my favorite month of the year, after March. Both March and September are months of transition, and both contain the spring and fall equinoxes. I wonder if it is the equal duration of the days and nights that I like? Balance after long hectic summer days. Perhaps it is my New England upbringing and childhood memories that provoke happiness at the smell of autumn air. Even after 20 Alaskan summers, I think of apples, apple cider donuts, winter squash and upcoming snowstorms. (Alas, no fresh apple cider or apple cider donuts and only a few winter squash for me in Alaska.) The crisp air is invigorating and that’s a good thing too as there is always so much to do to get ready for winter.

Only one kabocha this year.

By September the majority of the long season crops have matured, and I find myself playing chicken with the forecast. We often experience a killing frost the last week of August and then have several mild weeks. I have frost blankets, but they only protect up to 5° below 32°. The first half of the month, however, was quite mild, dipping down to 31°or 30° at night and warm during the days. I harvested my carrot crop and sold them. At least the ones not nibbled by voles!

Broccoli, cauliflower, and romanesco were steamed, cooled, and frozen for winter meals. As the month progressed, I pulled the outside tunnel tomatoes to ripen further and green beans to make into dilly beans and put into the freezer.

Vine ripened, inside away from the voles!

The potatoes came out the week of the 10th as the vole pressure in my garden this year was so intense, and my crop so much less prolific than usual, I wanted to save what I could. 200 pounds instead of 600 pounds this year.

I had lost hope for my sunflower plants at the end of August, and I am so glad I neglected to cut them down as 30° does not kill them (25° does) and I was treated to beautiful blooms from the second week to just past mid-month.

As much as I wanted to, planned to, meant to, I did not keep up on the weeds for the second half of the summer, so I spent a fair amount of time spot weeding plants about to go to seed. As important as keeping a tidy garden is to me, the weeds are often lowest on the priority list when we are harvesting, processing, starting school, and fixing whatever mechanical entities that decide to act up (it was the generators and irrigation system this year). Based on the past several years of extended falls into October, I hoped I had time to do the bed prep, bed edging, and deep weeding that was neglected in August and the beginning of September.

The scraggly fall garden.

I was not surprised then to see the forecast of snow last week just for the time period when I planned to “catch up”. Most of my harvest was out of the ground already, but the garlic was not yet in and that project, not weeding, is what took precedence in the days leading up to the first September snowstorm on the 21st. Keeping my fingers crossed for a big rain and not snow, the kids and I took down the pea trellis on the 19th and removed the pea plants where I planned to plant the garlic. I like to precede garlic with a crop that fixes nitrogen in the soil. Rhizobium bacteria and the legumes (peas, beans etc.) with which they have a symbiotic relationship, form nodules on the roots of nitrogen that the bacteria pull out of the atmosphere. Free fertilizer! Garlic is an intensely heavy feeder, so it gets the best soil and a lot of extras. I cut the pea plants just below soil level so that the nitrogen on the roots will be available to the garlic next season. On the 20th while the kids managed their classes independently, I got started. This is the first year that my entire planting is from my own garlic harvest. The cloves have been drying down since their August 18 harvest, first hanging from rafters in the Strelna Cabin, and then as trimmed cloves on racks in the pantry. It took me a couple of hours to crack all the garlic cloves apart. Finally with the finished product of 400 large cloves in labeled buckets I went outside and weeded, added compost, kelp, bloodmeal, and colloidal phosphate, broad forked, and raked the bed smooth. Using a homemade dibble, I marked 400 holes in four 50’ rows three inches deep. Finally, I was ready to plant! The garlic cloves went in just as it started to rain. By the time the bed was once again raked smooth and then covered with all the straw I could find, it was nearly dark and the rain was really coming down. I cut down all the fall storage cabbages and hauled them to the house just before nightfall. By morning there was a couple of inches of snow on the ground with more coming down but at least the garlic was in!

I almost got caught up with vegetable processing and neglected housework while the two back-to-back snowstorms turned our dry brown, green, and gold surroundings into a white, blue, and gold landscape. It is not often that we have so much snow when the leaves are still on the trees and the lakes are not yet covered in ice. The breathtaking beauty of it all was almost worth the finger aching cold of attempting plant debris removal and brussels sprout harvest from the garden in the snow.

Between snow storms, I moved soil piles (to where they were supposed to be spread months ago) and weeded in the garden until the ground froze. As soon as the outside air temperature warmed up into the mid 40s after the storm, I emptied the greenhouse of everything except the freeze tolerant lettuces. Bowls of cucumbers, sweet peppers and tomatoes as well as potted hot peppers and 5 tomato plants came inside to finish up much to the delight of the cats, who like to hide in the jungle.

End of the season greenhouse harvest

I spent yesterday canning pickled peppers.

And stringing up hot peppers to dry.

Red Cayenne and Aji Rico peppers in the center. Gobstopper cherry tomatoes still producing on the right and bottom as well as a hint of a ripening mountain miracle tomato on the left. Korean peppers for kimchi in the back.

In the cleared greenhouse space, I am now collecting the materials I need to make seed starting soil for the spring: perlite, peat, soil, compost. I need to mix up 10 batches with my cement mixer to be ready for spring seedlings. The third snow of the season is currently coming down today, the last day of September. But when the sun came out, I screened the compost I need for the seedling soil. It almost felt warm in the afternoon sunlight. I already hauled in the soil so now I just need bales of peat from town. I might actually get it done!

It is not every year that we have open water, fall leaves AND snow.

From my garden to yours, I wish you a happy fall of harvesting, processing, and eating. And enjoy the best part of winter coming up, which is of course, planning next year’s garden!


July and August are frenetic months. Facebook memories pop up nearly everyday from the past 15 years about being overworked, overtired, worn out, burning the candle at both ends. All my friends, all my neighbors, are busy too this time of year. It makes sense as we live in a place with a short season with only so much time to get summer projects done and to prepare for the long winter.


I have worn my summer season exhaustion like a badge of honor, feeling an inward satisfaction every time someone says “Wow, you are so busy” for too long. I don’t want to live that way anymore. There is no joy in working yourself to death. And so, I now have to remind myself it is ok to let things go in my quest to create new, healthier habits. “I can only do what I can do.” Being stressed out all the time is not any way to live. I am taking many notes this season on how to streamline the farm so I can spend more time in the future on the lake, more time with the horses, more time playing with my kids, more time in the wilderness, more time with friends.

Homeschool classes started this past Monday and the structured days have helped me set more realistic goals of what can be accomplished in a day, in a week. (Or try to. We ate dinner after 9pm last night when turkey butchering extended into the evening.) Saturday mornings are for harvesting produce to send out to McCarthy to be turned into restaurant fare. The rest of the week is weeding, watering, homestead harvesting and chores, and overseeing homeschool classes. This summer has slipped by quietly and quickly and the arrival of fall has caught me off guard. Fall, already?

The August full moon

The beets began to really hit their stride the week of July 19th and I have been harvesting steadily every week since. 4 succession plantings seems to be a good fit for our zone.

I butchered the meat chickens July 25th and was glad to begin culling the annual livestock (though not actually enjoying the butchering process.) It is a lot of work to do as one person, four times as fast with two. But butchering continues to be a farm activity in which the kids firmly refuse to involve themselves. The farm has been a little chaotic this season with the pigs, ducks, chickens, turkeys, and horses. With the horses back to work at hunting camp and the meat chickens in freezer camp, the daily chores have eased a bit.

Currently the emerging drakes need to be butchered (I am just now able to tell who is a boy with their maturing drake feathers) and a few persistently broody chickens. Fluffy, the single duckling from midsummer, has finally decided that he/she is indeed a duck and not a human and is living with the big ducks at 6 weeks old. The first three nights we attempted to keep the duckling outside, Fluffy escaped the garden fence to peep frantically at our door asking to come back inside for the night (which we allowed). But now, finally, happy as duck rather than human, Fluffy has turned his/her back on us. I would miss the duck company except we have a new kitten, Apollo, who has turned the domestic pet hierarchy in our home upside down, so we have plenty going on inside and out.

Farm kitty

I finally butchered the turkeys last night after putting it off for several days. I have two beautiful carcasses cooling in the fridge now before heading to the freezer. One was 20 pounds 7 ounces, the other 15 pounds even. Now that it is done I can revamp the meat bird pen into duck pen and move the ducks out of the perennial garden so I can work on that area this September. Ducks are noisy especially at night. Between the ducks and the new kitten waking me up several times a night, I have been unpleasantly reminded of what the nights (and following bleary days) with a newborn were like. I am looking forward to a quieter yard.

I have had spectacular flowers in the garden for the pollinators (and me) thanks to the July heat this year. The poppies, peonies, lemon gem marigold, phacelia, nasturtium, yarrow and buckwheat flowers have been busy with insects buzzing about. The hard August rains and frost nips have knocked many of these back from their peak, but I still have a few poppies, sweet peas, nasturtium (in the tunnels) and strawflowers hanging in. I think most of my sunflowers will be too late to bloom this year as they are just budding up now but that is entirely my fault as I started them too late. Same with the calendula, so I dug up 5 plants, potted them up and put in the greenhouse in the hopes of harvesting some September flowers.

Tomatoes and cucumbers have been a challenge in the greenhouse. It was so hot in July that the female cucumber fruits died on the vine. They are recovering and have fruits on the vines now, but growth is slower as it gets chillier. The indeterminate tomatoes look good but are ripening ever so slowly. I have been stingy with my greenhouse firewood as I have only a small supply this year but think I will need to keep the temperature warmer to get a good harvest. The pepper plants are covered in green fruits but also seem to be ripening very slowly. At least I do not have slugs in the greenhouse this year! The low tunnel determinate tomatoes in the market garden have done far better. So far, I have 4 gallons of ripe whole tomatoes frozen that I will turn into sauce later this fall and many more ripening up. Freezing whole tomatoes intended for sauce later is a great time saving trick in the summer (especially if you use a food mill to remove the seeds and skins when you thaw them).

Mountain Miracle. Slicers have been a challenge for me, always growing with a mealy texture. Until this one! Best. Tomato. Ever.

We have had two light frosts so far, one on July 31st when it just barely hit 31° and 30° at 4 A.M. on August 22 which nipped the tops of the potatoes and all the buckwheat flowers. We had covered everything we could with frost blankets. The voles are very happy to have the extra cover to munch away while the hawks cannot see them. Speaking of voles, I had a funny experience when emptying the vole traps. I had made a little vole pile in the middle of my main garden walkway to move out of the garden later. I got distracted by some other chore and looked for them the next day to take them away. Gone. So, I left the next collection out too to see what would happen. I don’t know if it is hawks or owls, but somebody is enjoying the vole buffet!

The raspberries really started producing as we came into August, and I have been attempting to diligently pick every other day. The sparrows do not seem to be hitting them as hard this year and we have over 10 gallons in the freezer and lots in our bellies. Production is slowing down as we hit the end of the month, but it has been a spectacular berry year with large, sweet berries.

I harvested the garlic on August 17th. Usually, I harvest in early August. Most of the varieties were spot on but a few new types I had tried this year were over mature. The garlic was late up this year and behind on producing scapes, so I was surprised that some were overgrown. The wet weather complicates garlic harvest but with rain forever in the forecast I went ahead and pulled them, rinsed off the soil and hung them up to cure in our guest cabin. I am hopeful they will dry down in time and that I will have enough large cloves to replant this September.

The carrot season is beginning and soon it will be time to empty all those beds too and put them up for sale. My days in the next weeks will be occupied with blanching and freezing, drying, and canning to preserve our food for the winter. Digging up the potatoes will soon be on the list as well!

An autumn chill is in the air and the willows are losing more of their verdant greenery every day. Yellow leaves are appearing and heralding that fall is here! I do love this time of year with the overflowing totes of vegetables, fresh meat, and a nip of cold.

August harvest basket

It is not all sunshine and rainbows on the farm. It just happens that harvest time joy has a way of overshadowing all the rough bits. There are weeds going to seed, pens that desperately need to be mucked out, overgrown paths to mow. Undone projects abound and to do lists flutter around the house like snowflakes. Nearly constant rain and cold temperatures this month rotted my bean and winter squash harvests.

Ok. Bummer.

Every year has crop failures which is why we plant a diversity of things to ensure that when some founder, others thrive. The rotting plants will go in the compost to become soil and start over next year. I harvest, take notes, and start planning for next year with the hard won lessons from this one. Most of all, I stop to appreciate what was possible this year and realize how truly good it all is. Garden resilience!

From my garden to yours, happy harvesting!