Iffytober An Uncertain Time for Gardening

Reader Contribution by Allan Douglas
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In Tennessee, October is an iffy time for gardening and the weather-guessers don’t offer much help. During the summer their inaccuracies may mean having to water on a day we didn’t plan to, but little else. In October a new foe comes a-calling: frost.

Some of the crops in my garden will handle frost just fine: lettuce, spinach, Brussels sprouts, onions, garlic to name a few. These will grow just fine on into the winter. But the last of the summer crops are not so hardy.

I still have tomatoes, bell peppers, banana peppers, jalapenos, red potatoes and sweet potatoes growing heartily and producing. I hate to rip these out for fear of frost, then get an additional two weeks of Indian summer where more of those items would have ripened. I still have two flats of green tomato relish canned up from last year’s frost aversion.

So I keep covers handy: bed sheets, light blankets, plastic sheeting all work well. I keep a box of spring clamps in the barn as well to secure these to my box frames. Until we get an actual freeze, this will keep the plants alive by keeping the frozen dew off the plants. Play it safe: cover up anytime a frost is possible.

Another option is to cover fence boxes with plastic to make mini-greenhouses. These help less cold-tolerant plants grow late in the season. Tip them up during the day or the sun and higher daytime temperatures will bake the plants to death.

Of course you can always just harvest the foodstuffs and be done with it. Green tomatoes can be wrapped in newspaper and put in a closed box to ripen. Check them daily and remove for use those that are ready or close to ready. I’ve read that if you have determinant types (bushes not vines) you can just pull up the bushes and hang them upside down in your basement or garage and the tomatoes will continue to ripen, giving you fresh ‘maters for a couple more weeks without messing with all that wrapping and unwrapping.

Or you can just use them to make fried green tomatoes, green tomato pie, green tomato casserole, or green tomato relish. Maybe a little of both: cook with the really hard green tomatoes, wrap those that have started to blush.

Peppers tend to just go soft when I try this with them, so they need to be used or preserved. They can be canned, frozen or dehydrated and stored for use later on. Peppers and tomatoes together can make relish or salsa.

When the vines die off on the potatoes, I’ll let them sit for another two weeks (unless we’re looking at a hard freeze that might freeze the ground enough to reach them) then dig them up and cure them for storage. I try to save the smallest ones for next year’s seed potatoes, and eat the rest. If we don’t eat them before they are in danger of going bad, I cube them, boil them up, and freeze them. That way we won’t waste them.

By the time November gets here, the weather will have turned cold enough that the summer crops have been taken out and the few things I grow through the winter will be established. But for October, gardening is just iffy.

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