Fall into Winter
As October comes to a close and November nears we are reminded of life's cycles in ways that contrast what we've experienced of Spring and Summer. The tree's take their path to slumber, the mushrooms awaken and we are reminded of the mycorrhizal networks that help decompose organic matter that support new life, and we watch as creatures prepare for colder and shorter days. It's a time to remember those who have passed on, celebrate the Summers end and prepare for Winter months ahead. In Celtic traditions this is called Samhain (SAM-hayne), meaning the "End of Summer," and is the third and final Harvest of the year. Celebrated on the sunset of October 31st to sunset on November 1st, it's an opportunity for us to go peacefully into winter's darkness.
This transition from Fall to Winter is a time when I share quite gratitude for the soil beneath our feet, for stillness and hibernation, and for the seeds that are offered in good faith -- a boundless faith in the future and in new life to come. It's also a time to continue to reflect on how our own lives are supported and tied to the other creatures of this land -- the migratory birds, the pollinators, the fish and the deer. As the fruit trees in the orchards become dormant, I begin to prepare for winter pruning season. But am also reminded to conserve my energy and welcome more stillness into my life. That said, there's still lots to do in the Garden so I've laid out four areas of focus for the coming weeks and months.
Planting Fruit Trees
Fall is the ideal time to plant fruit trees. This time of year is when most fruit trees begin their most active root growth, and planting at this time allows just enough time for the roots of a tree to become established – getting them accustomed to the soil and preparing them for fast growth the following spring. Trees established in fall are better able to survive the heat of the following summer. Plus, fall is also the best time to obtain the largest selection of fruit trees, many of the most popular varieties and rarer fruits are sold to early buyers, so it pays to be an early bird when shopping for fruit trees.
If you haven't done the proper species research, planning, and site prep, the second best time to plant your fruit trees is winter... so hit the books and get sheet mulching -- there's still time! While Spring is an option for fruit tree planting, it's not ideal. With summer right around the corner, your newly planted fruit tree won't have much time to settle in before the onslaught of those long and hot summer days. Now is the time to plant your fruit trees and make new additions to your home orchard.
My preferred Nurseries to source fruit trees are One Green World, Raintree Nursery & Burnt Ridge Nursery & Orchards. They source a wide variety of healthy, pest/disease resistant, PNW tried-n-true varietals, including heritage species that are flavorful, nutritious, and lesser-known. Plus, they don't douse their stock in Herbicides and/or Neonicotinoids. NOTE: Neonicotinoids (Neo-nic-uh-tin-oids) are systemic pesticides that are shown, across many scientific studies, to cause serious harm to bees, caterpillars, earth worms, and other wildlife and last for YEARS. Regulation is slow to catch up here in the US, so it's up to us to tell nurseries that we care about this topic. Your voice is powerful.
Plant Pacific Northwest Natives
Fall and winter are also great times to focus on adding Pacific Northwest Natives to your garden. Planting the Native Trees and Native Perennials in Fall will similarly help them get rooted before they show off in spring and summer. Planting Natives is THE way to go when working on a Garden's beauty, function and ecology. Understandably, it can also be hard to know where to start. There are TONS of native plant resources online, but here are a few that I really love.
Pollinator Parkways (click on "Converting your Parking Strip" for a fun design workbook pdf.)
Backyard Habitat Certification Program
Metro's Willamette Valley Booklet
Native Plants Poster
My favorite Native Plant Nurseries are Boskey Dell Natives, Humble Root Nursery, Echo Valley Natives & Naomi's. Though, for a more comprehensive list of 'non-neonic nurseries' follow this link to the Pollinator Parkways website.
Collect & Store Seed
Seed saving is a lost art that seems to be making its way back to popularity. Seed saving will not only save seeds but also save you money. It's also a fun garden activity to do with kids! It's time in the garden that is truly relaxing and rejuvenating.
The bountiful seeds remind me of nature's abundance, her giving spirit, and her faith in the future. The seeds are small and powerful symbols of fertility, strength, and new life. Gathering seed can connect us to this energy in our own lives outside of the garden.
Collecting seeds can vary widely based on the plant's distribution system. Start with something simple like onions, chives, sunflowers, lupine or other native flowers. Dry the seed on a flat surface and store them in glass jars (or ziplock bags) in a cool, dark and dry place. And remember to label them... you may forget where they came from come spring. :)
Mulch your Mitts Off
I know, I know... this again? Mulching is so critical to a garden's soil and ecological wellness, I can't overstate the importance of finding time and energy for this laborious task. Fall and winter are great times to do mulching for many reasons. First, it's easier to do hard labor when the weather is a little cooler. Second, the moisture helps cardboard breakdown if you are sheet mulching and will allow the mulch to settle and begin breaking down into top soil immediately (making spring planting and/or weeding a breeze). Third, there is lots of product available for free via Chip Drop.
I like sourcing wood chips/mulch from the local arborists not only because it's free, but becuase the product is usually better than the stuff you can buy on the market. Remember to note in your request that you don't want Tree of Heaven, Ivy, Knotweed, or Blackberry. If you get more than you need you can always post the extra to Craigslist and share with neighbors. Getting more is better than less since you will be laying it down thick -- 5-8" is ideal. Keep that core strength in check so you don't hurt your back, use a pitchfork and rack when possible, and get to it friends!
May our gardens continue to bring us closer to ourselves, one anther, and our 'Sense of Place' here in the Pacific Northwest.