By Becky Nelson
Kids are back to school. It sure looks and feels different this year in almost every aspect of our lives, and the timelines may have been extended, but the back-to-school marker is always the harbinger of true fall. With Labor Day on Monday, we will begin to see the tree leaves changing color, the air becoming a bit cooler and the gardens giving up for another winter’s nap.
Many of our plantings at the farm have seen the last of pickable production. Most of the cucumbers are done and many of the summer squash. Another crop of hay may be harvested before the end of the month, but hay production is about over for us. We will be picking some winter squash and hardier veggies for a while out of the fields for another week or two, and our last plantings of corn will wind to a close by the end of the month. Now is the time to start putting the fields to bed.
We began prepping the raspberry fields for winter a couple of weeks ago. It is the earliest that we have ever started fall pruning, taking the stalks that died back after bearing berries, but the drought had a lot to do with that. The extreme heat and the beginnings of drought in July brought the berries on quickly, and the annual die-back sooner. If you have a raspberry patch at your home, now is the time to cut the canes that had berries back to the ground, leaving no more than three inches of the stalks above the ground as the dead wood is a perfect place for pests to overwinter. This will give the vigorous stalks better airflow and help to strengthen before winter.
We are cutting cornstalks and preparing those fields for winter as well. In a couple of weeks we will seed these areas with winter rye or another “cover crop” to help replenish the soil with green matter when it dies back in the spring and keep areas prone to erosion right where they are instead of running downhill during autumn rain. In your own garden, it is a good idea to place a bit of mulch of some sort over the soil to do the same. Leaf litter from raking the lawn or grass clippings, as long as the grass has no seeds, makes a great autumn mulch for the gardens.
We may even be able to cover crop the pumpkin fields this year, as the pumpkins are already orange and need to be harvested. The drought and unusual heat of the summer brought the pumpkins to an early ripe stage, and we will be scrambling to get them off the ground and away from pest pressure as the sweet gourds are a favorite of squirrels, deer and chipmunks that can make a big pumpkin worthless with just a couple of bites. We have tried to keep the pests away through the summer with a noise and light maker and by spraying them with a stinky concoction designed to disguise the smell of the yummy treats. Success has been limited, but we still have a crop of intact squash and pumpkins to harvest.
If you grew winter squash or pumpkins in your garden, you will want to harvest them and keep them in a dry, cool place until used in order to keep them from critters and mold. I like to think of autumn as a time to unwind, but it seems that the scramble to keep up with summer harvests and chores and the pressure to get ready for the winter months makes this one of the most stressful and busy times of year for us and any farmers. I will have to make sure I take a minute to sit on the tractor or find a pretty spot to rest and enjoy the beautiful scenery that New Hampshire has to offer this fall and be thankful for the beauty all around me.
I urge you to stop at a farm stand while you are out and about looking at the foliage or traveling for the holiday. This marvelous time of year when summer is still in harvest and fall is coming upon us is a great time to celebrate summer with a fresh tomato or a couple ears of corn and pick up a pumpkin or a bundle of cornstalks to decorate your home. Enjoy your Labor Day and enjoy the transition of seasons.
Becky Nelson is co-owner of Beaver Pond Farm in Newport, New Hampshire. You can contact her through the farm page on Facebook and Instagram, visit the retail store or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.