Preparing for Fall

High-Desert Gardening by Lesley Aine McKeown

It’s hard to believe how fast this summer went! It was a difficult growing season without the monsoons, but if you watered you should be enjoying a harvest this month.

In this column we'll look at ways to preserve your harvest and what to plant for a fall crop. There are several ways to preserve your bounty that aren’t complicated and will ensure you can enjoy homegrown veggies all winter.

Canning is the best way to preserve most veggies. I learned to can by watching my grandmother, and I use her canning pot to this day. Canning is really very simple and does not require a huge investment. You can use a large stock pot for your water bath, and buying canning jars at thrift stores is a great way to recycle and save money. You will need to purchase new rubber-seal lids, those can’t be reused. You can reuse the rings. Get your supplies ready for this fall’s harvest!

Drying is also a good way to preserve tomatoes and fruit. It does re quire a bit more work and an electric dehydrator, or you can do it the old-fashioned way and dry your harvest on a fine wire-mesh screen. Drying fresh herbs is easy! Rinse your herbs in the morning with water while still in the garden. Pick in the evening once it's cool. Tie in bundles (not too tight to allow air to circulate) and hang in a cool, dark place to dry. Once dry, you can store in glass jars or airtight bags in a cool place, out of direct light, and use them all winter. It's best not to crush the herbs before stor age, this preserves the oils in the leaves and they will be more pungent.

Pickling is a great way to preserve tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans and so much more! Easy pickles can be made with vinegar, salt, garlic and hot pepper. Using sugar, fresh herbs and spices you can create savory or sweet pickles.

Pesto and Chutneys – Creating pesto and chutneys from your veggies and herbs is a beautiful way to preserve them and add flavorful texture to your dishes. Pesto can be made ahead and frozen, or keep in the fridge for several weeks. There is an abundance of ways to make pesto. Be creative, try using parsley, lettuce and kale. Chutneys are without a doubt the most interesting way to use all varieties of herbs,veggies and fruit. They can be savory or sweet, and used as a condiment with grilled meat or veggies, as a marinade for chicken, or added to a sauce or gravy.One of my favorites is an East Indian Cilantro Chutney that is delicious with grilled steak, gorgeous as an alternative to basil tomato caprese, and, when thinned with olive oil or toasted sesame oil, makes an amazing salad dressing.

Herb and Veggie Butters – Carrots and beets make amazing butter spreads. Roast and puree with salt, ginger, a little safflower oil and some macadamia nuts, and serve on fresh crostinis, voila! Make herbed butters with fresh herbs like basil, rosemary, thyme and parsley. Soften butter, add garlic and chopped herbs, and freeze in ice-cube trays to make fun little individual butter servings!

Fall Planting

Fall brings a whole new way to enjoy your container garden! Now is the time to plant fall crops like lettuce, kale, spinach, carrots, arugula, garlic, green onions, beets, radishes, peas and sweet potatoes. Plant these seeds as you did your spring containers, in fresh, high-quality organic potting soil. Be sure to keep your soil hydrated so your seedlings will sprout! With the intense heat we've been experiencing I would suggest starting your plants in shade, where they can get good light but the soil won't dry out so quickly.Keep your seedlings off the ground,as they are very tempting to little critters. Consider planting herbs, lettuce, kale, arugula and spinach in groupings for decorative displays. Prescott’s weather is perfect for these cool-weather crops, with warm days and cool nights through October!

Don’t forget to fertilize your plants. As we get toward the end of the growing season you can give them a much-needed boost!

Next month we’ll delve a bit deeper into canning, collecting and drying seeds, and planning your winter garden. Till next time, happy gardening!

Lesley Aine McKeown has been gardening organically in the Arizona high country for 42 years.

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