John Cox prepares the Friday Pizza Night dinner, while Sadie waits patiently for anything to hit the floor. Photo by Leslie Cox.

John Cox prepares the Friday Pizza Night dinner, while Sadie waits patiently for anything to hit the floor. Photo by Leslie Cox.

DUCHESS OF DIRT: Harvest time for the Duchess

Cox garden not only about the flowers

Leslie Cox

Special to The Record

Truthfully, I always get a little “down” at this time of year. It is partly due to an overwhelming harvest schedule. Seems I am spending far too much time in the kitchen instead of outside, enjoying the fading beauty in the garden.

Don’t get me wrong; I love preserving the bounty from the garden. Especially when we are still eating fresh tomatoes at Christmas, and beyond. The tomatoes that wind up in the freezer because we couldn’t eat them fast enough are enjoyed in soups and homemade tomato sauce for Friday’s Pizza Night.

Once the tomatoes are put away, the aronia berries (chokeberries) are ready. John always chides me about taking food away from the birds. They are a particular favourite of the robins, which is one way I can tell the berries are ripe for picking. But I like the berries too.

Scientists have discovered aronia berries have higher health benefits than blueberries, cranberries, currants, and others. Sure, the berries are tart but they are delicious in smoothies, muffins, and my latest trial recipe – aronia berry jelly. It is now John’s favourite, in fact, to the detriment of the robins’ diet.

I may have to plant another shrub for the birds since I can pick enough berries off one for my purposes. (Over 12 pounds this year.)

Now the last crop, pears, has been picked. A bit early for the late-ripening conference pear but they had to be rescued as the high winds were creating havoc. Another week or so and I will be processing these for the pantry; preserves, some jars with spirits added (yum), ginger pear marmalade, pear mincemeat with brandy. I sound like a lush with all this added booze but it sure ramps up the flavour.

Once the pears are picked, the weather is generally starting to take a downward swing. Temperatures are dipping as low as 2 – 3C some nights, which means hoses have to be drained and stowed away. The fountains have to be cleaned, drained and stored out of the weather. The pond pump has to come out and stored in a bucket of water indoors for the winter. (We learned the hard way that the seals dry out and disintegrate when it is not immersed in water. That cost us a few hundred dollars.)

Thanks to those high winds that were obnoxiously knocking our pears off the tree, most of the chestnuts are now laying on the ground. Means this year I can collect the vast majority of the chestnuts for the fire in one fell swoop instead of taking a week or more.

Warning: Never stand under a chestnut tree during a fall wind storm! Unless you have a hard hat.

Time to dig up those more tender plants: cannas, dahlias, eucomis (pineapple lily) and begonias. They need to be cleaned, dried and stored in peat or sawdust… someplace where they will not freeze.

We have also been doing some pruning. Good time to rein in a few tree branches and shrubs while the bonfire is going. It is also good to burn your herbaceous peony debris and leaves from tree peonies, if they have botrytis.

Other perennials can also be cut back if you like a tidy garden but do leave some for winter interest and some with seedheads to feed the birds.

But do not burn your leaves. Use them as mulch on your beds to protect the soil from winter rains. They will add nutrients and once the composting critters… beetles, worms, etc.… have done their work, the leaf mould will add valuable moisture-retention structure to your soil.

Your garden will be off to a great start next spring!

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at www.duchessofdirt.ca

Comox Valleygardening

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