As Autumn begins in the Pacific Northwest there are certain things that we expect such as smoke from scattered wildfires and a gradual shift from the dark greens of the surrounding forest to a golden hue as willows and indian plum trees at the margins respond to the fading light. There are some things that, year after year, come as a pleasant surprise – the last few sunny, warm days when the sky feels close enough to touch and the occasional burst of bright color from the bigleaf maples that are native and the many sweetgum trees that are the tree of the decade for landscapers of commercial properties.

It is the season that we harvest the last vegetables, start heeling in the garden beds for the wet season, and move as many of the outdoor plant pots under cover as possible. It’s just before the too-close-for-comfort season, and just past the sipping-tea-in-the-garden season. It’s a contemplative time for me, a time for looking back rather than forward, and assessing what has happened in this gardening year. It’s not yet time to really sit and plan, but I start to look at the patterns – the year-to-year data (stored mostly in my head) about what worked, what didn’t, what changes were made and what effect they are likely to have in the coming year.

pink and purple cosmos, jumble of foliage

When we started the garden in its current form a few years ago I was optimistic that it would magically take care of itself once established. Of course, that didn’t happen. With me physically out of commission and then in grad school, Tom and the boys needed more from me to keep it going. I am, after all, the family gardener. So it languished, and struggled, and didn’t do much. The orchard grew out of control, the dahlias died or were eaten from below, the deer munched happily on everything else.

I love having a big yard, an acre is just about right when I am healthy. The house is just about the right size, too — when I have the time to maintain it and keep clutter from accumulating too much. Over the years, I managed to get each part of both the house and the garden more or less tamed, at least to the point where I was content with it. I know we will get there again, too. Right now, the only part I am happy with is the vegetable garden. The rest of the “front” yard is making solid progress. The house is better than it was at the beginning of the year and so is the “back” yard.

garden with harvested squash in a line, kale and cosmos, and chairs to sit in

Next year, I expect we’ll get the rest of the front yard pretty well done and we’ll be tackling the back yard in earnest. I want to get the house a little more “user friendly” this winter, from recycling my parents’ old carpet for my living room to minimizing the “someday” teaching materials in the main living spaces and putting them in well-labeled boxes. To be honest, I am not usually highly motivated to get housework done in the winter, so I am trying to get myself ahead on the laundry at least… before we are embedded in grey skies. Right now, though, I am content to spend as much time as possible outside.

Which meant that this past weekend, I spent almost every waking moment Saturday and Sunday in my yard. I managed to enjoy myself more than I actually accomplished, I am sure, but here is where we are right now:

We harvested the garlic that was ready, and some of the beans.

7 heads of garlic drying after harvest with a handful of green and purple beans on top

We pulled out all the mystery squash because they were getting covered in powdery mildew. One of the two productive Hubbard squash is also gone, pulled by accident, and doesn’t seem to be okay after replanting. I’ll let it linger a while, just in case the roots wake up and start feeding it again, but I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t make it.

We removed all the peas.

a living trellis of willow now free from peas, beans growing an old bed frame and a rampant squash in the foreground

I planted lettuce, cilantro and parsley in the cold frame.

I weeded and thinned the strawberries, putting the thinned plants/offshoots into pots for later. I need to figure out now which of the parent plants to keep, which to move and which to just remove. The plants themselves were healthy, and clearly happy this year, but they were weaving in and out as they sent out runners, which would make weeding and harvesting next year difficult. In professional/commercial fields they renew the plants every year by training the shoots into new rows and then removing the parent plants in the fall. I think the parent plants are still productive, and would rather add a new bed this coming year.

So now the question is… inside the vegetable garden, on top of the mound (since the dahlias are mostly dead anyway, a good application of new soil would make that a fine location), or… elsewhere?

Nascent strawberry plants seeking permanent home. Must be airy and sunny, with abundant water and low traffic. Deer-infested gardens need not apply.

young plants in pots and flats ready for transplanting

This is a very good time in the garden. I find the abundance of fruit and veggies a little overwhelming, but the satisfaction of being able to provide at least part of the family’s food each day is unmatched. We eat beans, cucumbers, kale, carrots (and soon, parsnips) or garlic every day. The squash are good (but not my favorite veggie) and go well in stir-fry. I am waiting for the Hubbard squash, though, which make the BEST pies. The tomatoes, if they ever ripen, are Cuore di Bue, and will make tasty sauces. And the potatoes, if we can harvest what is left before the tunneling critter eats the last of them.

A mature garden, in the prime of production, worked and working. There will always be more to do, and there is usually a moment to pause and enjoy.

Stidkid walking past the veggie garden with wheelbarrow

Like a classroom filled with questions or children who rampage through mud forts and blanket tents, this is all the proof I need that there is hope for tomorrow.