Kitchen Garden School: September

Kitchen Garden School: September

Welcome to the September lesson of Kitchen Garden School at Cornell Farm. The harvest continues this month, so we're walking around the Farm with our lead kitchen gardener, Cynthia DuVal, as she talks about some of the many options for preserving our backyard bounty. Here at the Farm, we've had a successful year in our garden — including a bumper crop of beautiful tomatoes — and before we dive in, we'd like to take a moment to celebrate your progress, too! What have you been harvesting and preserving? Send a photo of the fruits of your labor to Cynthia and we just might share it.

Preserving the Harvest

As autumn approaches, there are several methods you can use to ensure that you can enjoy the flavors of your garden all year round.

  • Canning is a tried-and-true method for preserving fruits and vegetables, as well as any jams, pickles, and sauces that you may make from your garden bounty. There are two basic methods of canning: water canning, which is best suited for acidic jams and jellies, and pressure canning, which is best suited for low-acidity veggies like beans. Both processes sterilize and seal in food so that it keeps at room temperature for a long time.
  • Pickling is a method that involves preserving vegetables — and pretty much anything — in a solution of vinegar, water, and salt called a brine. This process is often combined with canning, but doesn't have to be if you plan on eating your pickled veggies quickly!
  • Freezing is perhaps the simplest and most convenient way to preserve your fall harvest — if you have the space in your freezer, that is — which is why Cynthia plans to freeze her famous tomato sauce this year, rather than can it. Briefly blanching fresh fruits and veggies before freezing can help them maintain their color and nutritional value. Consider freezing berries, peas, beans, and herbs for future use in smoothies, soups, and stews. (We've even seen some savvy gardeners chop up herbs and freeze them in ice cube trays!)
  • Drying is an ancient, but effective technique for preserving fruits, vegetables, and herbs. You can air-dry herbs by simply hanging them upside down in a well-ventilated area. For fruits and vegetables, you might consider investing in a food dehydrator, or for a low-tech alternative, spread out small or thinly-sliced fruits on a baking sheet and put them in your oven for several hours on low heat.

These certainly aren't the only methods for preserving food, as every culture has its own practices and variations on the theme. (Fermentation, for instance, is a route taken by cultures as diverse as those of Germany and Korea, the respective originators of sauerkraut and kimchi.) And some root vegetables and winter squash will keep for quite some time all on their own, as long as you have a cool, dry, dark storage area like the root cellars of old. If you have a space that fits the bill, you might consider growing more of these crops for winter eating. (Surprisingly, refrigerators aren't great for long-term storage for some of these fruits because they are actually too humid!)

We encourage you to explore the preservation options that interest you, based on your personal tastes and your ability to execute them. And this brings us to our next point: Fall is a great time to evaluate! Has your fresh produce kept up with you or your family's appetite? Do you have the time and space to devote to preserving your current level of abundance — or over-abundance, as it might be? What's feasible for you to preserve, given how much time you have, the size of your garden, and what your storage space is like? These questions are great for thinking ahead and making adjustments to what — and how much of it — you plan to grow in your kitchen garden next year.

Preparing for the Future

In addition to making adjustments to our plans, we can also prep the garden for the future in very tangible ways! There is still time to plant out a few starts for fall harvest — and the winter harvest beyond — as Cynthia demonstrates in the video above with a Brussels sprout start. But there are also other tasks to take into consideration! For instance, did you know that we need to tend to our strawberry beds this time of year? Check out the video below for Cynthia's tips.

Caring for Our Strawberry Beds in the Fall

In September, strawberries — and particularly June-bearing varieties that have finished fruiting — produce more runners than you actually want. Most of these runners should be cut off at the mother plant to prevent overcrowding, which will make getting a good crop of berries next year easier for both you and the plants! All strawberries will also benefit from an application of a balance organic fertilizer like the 5-5-5 formula that Cynthia scratches into the surface of the soil. For a full breakdown of year-round strawberry care, check out our handy guide to growing strawberries on our blog.

Other Activities & Resources

Check out a few of the tasks you can undertake in the kitchen garden right now, along with the following "recommended reading."

  • Read the September chapter of The Maritime Pacific Northwest Gardening Guide from Tilth Alliance (pages 88-91 in the second edition) to learn more about what we can be doing in our PNW gardens in September.
  • Pages 246-371 in Plant, Grow, Harvest, Repeat by Meg McAndrews Cowden are particularly relevant to the topic of succession planting in late summer and early fall. Keep in mind that the average first frost date in our area typically falls in November, but this varies greatly based on your location. (The Old Farmer's Almanac has an easy-to-use frost date lookup tool based on your zip-code.) This represents the time when we experience our first light freeze of 29° - 32°F, at which point we will want to have all of our tender crops harvested.
  • For a helpful guide to all things canning, Cynthia recommends finding or purchasing a handy reference book like the one put together by the mason jar manufacturer Ball, which can be found at most grocery stores with the canning supplies. Or check out their reputable resources online.
  • If you're interested in learning more about growing and preserving medicinal herbs, Cynthia has a bonus book recommendation: Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies by Maria Noel Groves. The first chapter from pages 13-32 is an excellent place to start!
  • Fall is a time of multi-tasking in the garden: The harvest is ongoing, w'ere planting our final successions of fall veggies, and at the same time, we are beginning to clean up the garden, amend our soils for the next year, and prepare to put he garden to bed for the winter — or keep it going with a cover crop or winter successions of brassicas and greens. You're doing a great job, gardener; keep up the good work!
  • As you're out among your fruit trees, it's a good idea to pick up any fallen fruit you may find on the ground to prevent potential issues with pests and disease down the line.

      September Planting

      Although we are winding things down with the approach of fall, there are still many plants that can go in the ground in fall.

      • Fall is the ideal time to add fruit trees and shrubs to your landscape, as cooler temperatures and rains help these plants get established before their growth slows in the winter. We have a great selection at the Nursery this time of year!
      • From September to November, we can plant out garlic for harvest next summer.
      • Many other plants can still be sown or transplanted now for a fall or winter harvest. Check out the The Maritime Pacific Northwest Gardening Guide or stop by the Kitchen Garden at Cornell Farm for more ideas!

      Connect With Us

      If you have questions about edible gardening or would like help selecting plants, our knowledgeable team is always happy to assist you in the Kitchen Garden Greenhouse. Cynthia often gives informal tours of our display beds, so feel free to stop by for a quick walk-around! For help from afar, you can reach out to Cynthia and our Kitchen Garden team directly at

      We are also excited to share that, for those wanting more individualized assistance with their kitchen gardens, Cynthia is also available for personalized 90-minute Garden Coaching Sessions held in your very own garden.