Garden Lessons from Harvest Season

This past Saturday, my friend Suzanna and I attended a harvest celebration in honor of the soon-to-be changing season. Even though the Autumnal Equinox occurs on the 22nd this year, signs of Fall have already begun to reveal themselves: chilly mornings, grey days, changing flowers and foliage. Some of the tomato plants have become so huge that they’ve sprawled far beyond the “Bed Bed,” developing blight from all the damp mornings. Cool weather crops like radishes, brassicas, celery and Chinese greens push their way through straw mulch in the newly planted “Guarden Bed” that will house winter greens and root veggies under a cold frame. Most dramatically — for our yard anyway — most of the sunflowers took their final bow yesterday.

Instead of this:

Lemon Queen Sunflowers

Lemon Queen Sunflowers

We now have this:

fall display

David and I cut down the huge stalks and heads of completely spent sunflowers and left ones that still seemed to have a bit of life in them. I moved the geraniums and lemon balm over from the side of the house to fill in some of the empty space, but it still looks bare to me. I’m grateful for some of the continued color, which will remain at least until next week when I begin lasagna gardening and mulching out an enormous swath of front lawn (on an angle) in preparation for next Spring’s planting of rose bushes, a quince tree and all my edible front yard ornamentals, which may or may not include an heirloom corn as part of the Three Sisters planting. At the very least, Scarlet Runner Beans will make teepee appearances on either side of the sunflower patch. We’ll see what else wants to play out front, depending on how well the lasagna layers break down over the winter.

Our front herb garden has changed colors, too, with more emphasis on the nasturtiums and just-beginning-to-bloom Fall Asters:

herbs and asters

The front yard presents some lessons of letting go, releasing Summer’s beauty and learning to appreciate the lag time between bright Fall leaves and the fading of Summer’s glory. Due to the major project I have planned for next Spring, which involves Fall layering and Winter decomposing, this letting go very much underscores the idea of how each season fades and grows into another season, all in a cycle and natural rhythm. Part of me would love to freeze time when I find something I love, but in Nature — sometimes even more obviously than the rest of life — things continually change. Life becomes death becomes seeds (or compost) becomes new life, and on and on and on…

The Mabon (Harvest) Celebration focused on gratitude along with the “releasing of projects not completed” or laying to rest of “things left undone.” We each wrote one or more things for which we felt thankful this year and then listed one or more things we had intended to do but didn’t or tried implementing but found that for whatever reason, didn’t turn out as well as we had hoped. We then walked a labyrinth and I felt the usual coming to center and letting go — followed by a potluck feast!

I brought a pesto, tomato and chickpea dish topped with nasturtiums. Except for the chickpeas, the main ingredients all came from that afternoon’s harvest from my garden:

Pesto Chickpeas

I don’t follow recipes, but here are some rough guidelines:

Chickpea Pesto with Tomatoes and Naturtiums:

2 large + 1 small can(s) of organic chickpeas/garbonzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup or more to taste of cherry tomatoes, halved

Vegan Pesto:

an entire Vitamix filled with fresh basil
two cloves garlic
dash of olive oil
juice of one large lemon (slightly less, since I used some for the drink I brought)
generous teaspoon of miso paste
1-2 TBSP Parma vegan parmesan (I often use chipotle cayenne, but I used the garlic herb blend for this)

(optional: crunchy addition like sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, etc. — didn’t use for this recipe due to the crunch of the chick peas)

Blend all but the optional crunch addition in the Vitamix, or use a food processor. The Vitamix may require use of the tamper, since the basil can fly around without blending everything. Taste test and add salt and/or pepper to taste. If adding the crunchy additions, add in and just pulse until broken down but not blended into the rest of the pesto.


Put chickpeas in a bowl or carrying dish, mix in the pesto. Add tomato halves. Freshly harvest the edible nasturtium flowers (which give their own peppery taste) and arrange on top. Enjoy!

Since I had so many extra ripe tomatoes and jalepeno peppers, I also brought a Virgin Bloody Mary mix:

Virgin Bloody Mary

I wasn’t sure whether to call it a Virgin Mary, a Goddess Mary or a Maiden Mary, but whatever the name, it had quite a kick! Rough recipe:

Vitamix full of ripe tomatoes with cores cut out
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
4 stalks celery
Splash of wheat free tamari
1-2 jalepeno’s without seeds
just a pinch of birch sweetener

Blend until smooth. Chill or enjoy as is.

Speaking of extra tomatoes, something about the previous night’s celebration and reflection encouraged me to begin digging out some of my massively overgrown tomato plants that have become too messy and difficult to harvest:

tomato madness

Above, you see them toppled over to the back of the “Bed Bed” where dozens of tomatoes have literally been feeding squirrels and/or rotting on the vine because despite my best efforts, I can’t harvest them fast enough or easily enough to keep the area clean. I realized that I’ve had excellent performance from these three plants, but for the past week they have become more of an annoyance and chore than a delight. I’ve been dehydrating and giving away tomatoes like crazy, because our freezer’s full! I even tried our friend Phil’s solar dehydrator:

solar dehydrator

I’m so grateful he let us borrow it, because I’ve learned that building our own solar dehydrator is another project I could have put in the “didn’t get done, doesn’t need to get done” category. I suspect things would have gone better had I used it at the peak of Summer rather than this flirtation with Fall, but after two sunny days and two damp nights, I had a mess of fruit flies, damp tomatoes and crinkled up damp squash. Thankfully, I had put that experiment on parchment paper and just tossed the questionable produce. For now, I will happily continue our electric Excalibur, which — so long as I run it on our front porch — doesn’t even smell up the house for the 48 hours of drying time. We have loads of dehydrated, intensified flavor tomatoes to enjoy all Winter, and we didn’t waste an entire weekend building a solar dehydrator more suited to the dry summers of Arizona than the hot and humid Midwest ones. Live and learn! Another lesson in releasing …

Anyway, back to the tomatoes: I have a difficult time getting rid of living things (and even people) in my life that aren’t “bad” but nonetheless don’t really bring me joy equivalent to the work involved in maintenance. After the previous night’s focus on just letting go those things that either no longer serve or that something in us opted not to include in our experience, I realized, you know what? I have five other tomato plants besides these three. Some of them are loaded with varieties I’ve not yet even tasted because they’re still ripening. We’ve had these three plants’ tomatoes all Summer, and they really are becoming more trouble than they’re worth. To me. And ultimately, it’s my garden. I have influence over this experience. I can thank these plants for their service, carefully separate out the healthy leaves, stems and fruits from the blight and spotted ones, and I can make room for a new Winter crop of peas, which will add nitrogen back into the soil and look a heckuva lot cleaner than these sprawling, rotting tomato vines.

Easier said than done, of course! I only managed to cut through one of the three plants yesterday before it started raining. From that one, I harvested many a squirrel and rabbit nibbled tomato, but I also hauled out eight pounds of green tomatoes, enough to double “Put ‘Em Up!”‘s recipe for Tomatillo or Green Tomato Salsa. That will be today’s canning adventure:

green tomatoes and lemongrass

We even had some super fresh ripe tomatoes for last night’s Greek Salad, and I’m excited to try my first solo canning run. Another new skill put into use by rooting out the old. I’m sure there will be more where this came from, since the other two plants I intend to remove have even more tomatoes at various stages of ripeness.

The other day, my friend Martha, who loves, loves, loves our kale, asked if I was “winding down the garden.” “Well, not really,” I replied, “It’s just different.” Harvest Season is upon us, whether we grow gardens or simply live in the Northern Hemisphere. As we approach Thursday’s Harvest (Full) Moon, it’s a natural time to take stock of how you’ve grown this year. What have you accomplished? What have you learned? How will you snuggle into the Fall and Winter Season? If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s time to set goals and celebrate the opportunities for watching seeds grow into fruition. Wherever you are, please take a moment to honor your participation in Nature’s Web of Life. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens”:

3 responses to this post.

  1. When asking about how to plant tomatoes, the first question is how deep. Tomatoes have the ability to grow roots along their stems, so when planting tomato plants, plant deep; right up to the first set of leaves. This takes care of those leggy tomato seedlings. If the plant is too long and wobbly, dig a small trench and lay the plant on its side, gently bending it into a right angle. Bury the stem in this position leaving those first two leaves exposed. Some gardeners believe those leggy starters will form a healthier plant than those with a more compact form.



  2. Thanks for the tips! I have heard that, and I actually did do that in the plants I put in the ground. They are along trellises, were planted much later, and are a different type, so lots of factors there. They are, however, far lower maintenance than the ones in my raised beds. I will for sure be planting tomatoes exclusively in the ground next to heavy duty trellises from now on, and burying those leggy stems, too! Thanks for commenting.



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