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Jessica’s Garden: Letting Go of Summer, Moving on to Fall

Last of the Cherry Tomatoes
Last of the Cherry Tomatoes

This week was deceiving. While the harvest was declining and seasons are shifting, I certainly did not feel any less consumed by the garden’s need for attention. Which is really a part of the reward for growing my own goodness. It’s something that requires months of dedication but turns around and rewards me ten-fold. Something that started as a hobby years ago has now become much more of a lifestyle.

Last week, I began letting go of the tomato plants that were no longer thriving. This week, we definitely parted. The last few plants were looking nothing short of pathetic. I decided we needed a trial separation. There was no sense in letting a great friendship get ruined. I needed a break– they needed a break. So until next year, we just cannot see one another anymore. I harvested the last of the tomatoes that were salvageable off the vines.

Some were ripe, some just shy and others still green. I have an overflowing basket of ripe and under-ripe cherry tomatoes ‘Principe Borghese’ that are destined for another round of pickled cherry tomatoes. The first batch turned out so beautifully that I have decided to prepare another batch for Christmas gifts.

Wedding Gifts
Wedding Gifts

This past weekend, some of my husband’s and my best friends finally tied the knot. He’s a chef and enjoys funky and interesting flavors. And she married a chef so she’s down for deliciousness too.

For such events, I try to stamp a personal touch on my gifts. As I’ve mentioned in entries past, my family is English. So for bridal showers I like to give a tea set with several homemade jams and jellies.

For our wedding we attended this past weekend, I also combined my heritage with my hobbies and put together a basket full of pickles, relishes, chutneys and jams to compose a basket for making ‘Ploughman’s Lunches.’

Last week I harvested the heads from my two sunflowers. I let them dry in the sun for a few days and when the seeds were ready to give, I shucked them. Never having roasted sunflower seeds, but having lots of experience roasting pumpkin seeds, I prepared them similarly. I tossed them with a tablespoon or so of sesame oil, lots of fresh cracked pepper and a tsp of coarse kosher salt. I popped them in a hot (375 degree) preheated oven and roasted for about 20 minutes, turning a couple times through the process. Olive oil would work just as well. Sesame oil needs a little more monitoring since it smokes much more easily and gets hot much more quickly.

Sunflower heads

I managed to turn all the available and ready space in the garden for my fall crops. I planted cauliflower and bok choy seedlings and sewed two varieties of beets—heirloom red beets and a gourmet blend of beets that have colorful rings when cut open. I have started using a new- to-me seed company this year, Botanical Interests, and have had excellent results. Not only do they provide a quality product, but it’s also beautiful. Each packet displays an artistic rendering of each plant. I’ve starting looking for vintage frames to display empty packets for my future potting shed.

Grandpa and Grayson Carrot Picking
Grandpa and Grayson Carrot Picking

Grayson and I also did a little foraging and gathering at my parent’s home this week. My dad has been tending to his raised garden where he grows carrots and parsnips. We were able to pull a few carrots this weekend for supper that evening. Grayson was pretty amazed when he saw the carrots emerge from the earth and has been talking about it ever since.

He has also taken to the Asian pear tree that my dad planted this year. Amazingly, the tree fruited nicely given that it has only been grown in a plastic pot until a couple of months ago. Grayson walks right up to it, plucks a pear and lets the juices dribble all the way down his chin and onto his ‘football shirt,’ as he calls the one article of clothing he will no longer remove.

We also foraged around their property for fungi; I like to collect it for drying and crafting. They had a 200+ year old oak tree that started leaning towards the house last year: that quickly had to be taken down. You have never seen a family cry over a tree like we did; for each member of the family it held its own special memories.

I remember my mother meeting me under the tree with an afternoon picnic after I’d hopped off the school bus in elementary school. Now, the pieces that my dad is still working on splitting for firewood, are covered in gorgeous velvety fungi that keep their color when dried. For my sister’s wedding last fall, I made table numbers from wood rounds cut from smaller branches embellished with fungi and moss harvested from the same tree.

I also need to share my most recent up-cycling and repurposing find. At the farmhouse, we have almost entirely renovated our son Grayson’s, bedroom. I painted a 6’x4’ chalkboard onto the plaster walls and my husband Chris framed it out with trim. And then destiny happened. I’ve been wanting a vintage school desk for Grayson’s room but can never justify antique store prices for one.

Refurbished School Desk
Refurbished School Desk

As we were driving around last Sunday, there was one for free on the side of the road! It needed a little TLC, but after some cleaning, sanding, staining, polyurethaning and painting of its legs, it looks awesome. This project is being considered “free.” I did not have to spend an additional penny to fix it up. I already had the sandpaper, stain left over from the cabinet resurfacing kit during the kitchen renovation, poly from staining the floors and a can of left over spray paint from my mother-in-law. I cannot wait for the polyurethane to cure on his freshly stained floors so his school desk and chalkboard can unite.

Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford Behnkes Garden Blogger

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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