The year has come full circle here at The Woks of Life HQ. It was around late September of last year that we packed up our old home and moved into an 18th Century farmhouse—nearly getting crushed under a wall of kitchenware-filled moving boxes in the process! One year in, and we’ve now seen the farm and property in all of its glorious seasons.
While last fall was lovely, this fall was spectacular—one of the most beautiful years for autumn color we’ve experienced in a long time—not just at our home, but in the entire surrounding area (i.e. good ol’ gets-a-bad-rap-but-can-actually-be-quite-pretty New Jersey).
Let’s go on a fall garden tour!
Documenting the changing of the seasons
Whenever the weather allows, we’re outside. It’s most days—basically every day if you’re my dad. At this point, we have a bell installed at our kitchen door so that whoever’s in the house being responsible and making sure everyone has three meals a day (usually my mom) can ring the bell and call everyone back inside to eat and remember to drink water.
Anytime we’re outside though, we take our phones with us to snap photos of all the goings-on around the place, and our whole family (the four of us and Justin) keeps a running shared album of pictures of the garden and property.
It’s been a great way to capture small details of the changing seasons, as well as the vast amount of transformation that’s gone on as we’ve checked off project after project in this fast-moving year.
It’s time to look back on this past autumn—the sights, the harvest, and some of the jobs we’ve tackled.
We’ve also created a vlog with some of our fall garden highlights! Check it out:
A few weeks go, my dad said to me, “I think this is the best the property has looked since we got here.”
He was right. With so many jobs big and small under our belts, the garden and farm seems to have come back to life.
Where the old, dried up sticks dominated the hydrangeas last year, they were replaced with this season’s new growth. Where there were once a tangle of weeds or soggy, bare ground, there is now fresh grass, a vegetable bed, or a newly planted tree.
Although fall is the time of year when the garden slips into gradual hibernation, we can look around and see the potential for the next growing season.
This year was incredible for fall leaves. While last year, warm temperatures persisted into late November, the seasons behaved a bit more normally this fall. By the second half of September, temperatures were beginning to cool. Perhaps this is what contributed to this absolutely incredible display of fall colors!
Perhaps this perception also had to do with the fact that we already had a year’s work under our belts. While last year, all we could see were all the jobs that needed doing, this year, we could appreciate the little things, like the tinge of red on the oak leaf hydrangea leaves (below left).
We did a lot of work around the pond this year, requiring us to re-seed the pasture around it in early October, brightening up the place with fresh grass. In the meantime, the herd grazed on the front lawn (luckily, we have a fence that goes around the entire property).
The animals have been local celebrities since before we moved in (they came with the house), so we did notice quite a few cars slowing down to watch them graze!
What I’m calling the woodland garden (which isn’t yet a garden per se, but I can see the future garden in my head!) was beautiful and peaceful (after a summer of excavating and lots of rock moving) with its yellow foliage and newly repaired stream bed.
Many of the summer crops in the vegetable garden were done by mid-September, but we still had plenty to harvest throughout the fall! Let’s talk about that next.
Autumn is harvest season, and pumpkins are perhaps the most emblematic harvest of fall. We’re proud to say that our garden basically filled our annual need for pumpkins and decorative gourds!
The mini orange and white pumpkins Kaitlin is holding below actually grew by accident. Last year’s pumpkins were tossed into the compost heap behind the vegetable garden, and lo and behold, pumpkin seeds germinated and started growing.
Kaitlin thought the big pumpkin below on the left was very “Hagrid’s hut.”
This was perhaps the biggest garden surprise of the year. While we’ve attempted carrots in years past, we were never able to grow them successfully, usually pulling disappointing tiny nubs out of the ground that never really got going.
This year, however, we’ve been harvesting beautiful rainbow carrots since early August!
Not every carrot has been perfect (see: hollow carrot below on the left, or hilariously voluptuous “leg carrot” on the right), but we haven’t had to buy carrots from the grocery store in months. That’s a major win!
We planted daikon radishes in August after clearing out our pea tips bed, and they were also a big success! Learn more about how to grow daikon radishes next year.
My mom ordered yam slips (rooted sprouts from mature sweet potatoes, used to grow new plants) online, and we planted them at some point in early summer. By November, we were pulling big batches of yams out of the ground!
Cold Weather Greens
Remember the aforementioned pea tips? Well, they migrated and seeded themselves in the garden path. So while we had an early summer harvest, we also got a small fall harvest as well!
We also grew tatsoi (below center), as well as malantou, a flowering perennial plant in the daisy family with edible leaves. It’s known as “indian aster,” and prior to growing it ourselves, we’d only eaten it in China.
It’s particularly popular in the Yangtze River Delta region of China, including cities like Ningbo, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, and Shanghai, where my mom grew up. It grows really pretty small purple daisies, making it a great ornamental as well as edible plant!
While fungal problems earlier in the year dashed our hopes for peaches, apples, and pears, we did get a crop of small, but very sweet persimmons, as well as paw paws (which taste like a cross between a mango and a banana).
One of our biggest goals at the beginning of the gardening year was to grow cut flowers for arrangements that we could display in the house.
While many of the annual flowers we grew from seed this year, like zinnias and cosmos, ended up staying outside for the pollinators, we did grow some really beautiful dahlias that just so happened to be in a spectrum of really pretty fall colors.
These babies flowered right up until we got our first frosts a couple weeks ago. They supplied us with fresh flowers for over three months!
So this fall was pretty busy, what with our new cookbook coming out on November 1.
But amidst the interviews and events, we’ve also been keeping busy with lots of fall tasks!
Tinkering with the stream (i.e. building a second pond!)
Because my dad is a perfectionist, and also thinks big with any project he starts, the stream work continued into the fall, with the digging of a new small pond in the lower stream bed. I can’t wait to plant it up with water edge plants and start seeing wildlife colonizing it next year!
Our dahlias, butterfly bushes, bidens, marigolds, and snapdragons have been blooming constantly throughout the season, due to pretty regular deadheading (cutting off spent flowers so the plant produces new blooms).
This is a job that I took up through the summer and fall, whenever I was home!
My dad did a lot of work to improve drainage in the pond area and rebuild the pond wall, which was collapsing. All that work—coupled with the drought conditions we had this summer—meant there was a need to refresh the pasture with new grass. We re-seeded it, and put down straw to help it grow.
Remember all those dead trees we removed last spring? Well this fall, we spent some time planting new ones! To name just a few that went in: a willow, Yoshino cherry, weeping cherry, Japanese maple, dawn redwood, and a tulip tree sapling we actually brought from our old house.
Tying in Summer-Fruiting Raspberries
We have both summer-fruiting and autumn-fruiting (AKA everbearing) raspberries in our garden. Summer-fruiting raspberries produce fruit on the previous year’s growth. These bushes didn’t have any berries this year, as they were newly planted.
However, in the fall, it’s time to prune them to about 5-7 canes and tie them in for next year. This was somewhat challenging, as I’d let them grow a bit wild, but we got the job done!
Picking Up Leaves
A familiar job to us all, but also another kind of harvest! We grind up the leaves with the mower to compost and make leaf mold (a great soil conditioner). Or we use the leaves to mulch garden beds.
We let some of our vegetable crop go to seed, particularly our carrots and garlic chives, so that we could collect them to grow on next year! And who knew that asparagus seeds show up in the form of little red berries?? (Below right)
Tidying Up Garden Beds
While we left a lot of our garden in place to provide cover for animals this winter and help maintain soil structure, we did remove some particularly blackened, old growth, like our peony foliage from way back in spring, cutting it all the way down to the ground.
The photo of me below on the left is right before Justin came in with the electric trimmers, making what was probably going to be a 20-minute job into a 30-second job!
Mulching with Compost
I was doing my weekly clearing of manure in the herd’s pen when I dug my shovel into the manure pile, and out came the most beautiful, friable compost that smelled like a damp forest floor.
Throughout the summer, the worms had been doing their good work in the manure pile, breaking it down into soil. We collected this composted manure, and used it to mulch several garden beds for winter. Almost every shovelful was full of lively worms! A welcome sight for any home gardener.
Digging Up Non-Hardy Plants
After the dahlias and cannas started to blacken from the first frosts, Justin dug them up out of the ground. He rinsed them, dried them, and stored them in the garage for winter. Next year, we’ll plant them out again!
Wrapping Our Fig Tree for Winter
We have a small fig tree in the ground against a south-facing wall, which sustained some frost damage last year. This year, most of the tree is tender new growth, so we really took wrapping it up for winter seriously!
In our growing zone, fig trees are usually kept in pots and moved indoors overwinter. This fig tree was in a pot for about 3 years but never really took off. We decided to plant it in the ground, but knew that it would need some intense winter wrapping.
After the tree dropped its leaves, we tied the branches together into a pillar, and then wrapped that in burlap. Then we used bamboo stakes and chicken wire to create a rather wide wire cage. We filled the cage with dried leaves for insulation, and then wrapped the cage with a folded moving blanket. We put an overturned plastic plant pot over the tree, so moisture from rain and snow wouldn’t get into it. Then we wrapped the whole shebang in burlap again, securing it with pieces of twine from old hay bales.
A larger overturned bucket resting on the bamboo stakes added an extra layer of protection. Finally, we mulched the ground around the tree. Phew. I’m tired just writing about it.
In the picture below, I’m pointing to the knot we have to untie next spring to release the whole thing. (Also, I look harried because Justin and I did this after a full day of blogging recipes.)
Will have to see if the tree makes it through the winter okay, but hopefully it’s snug and warm!
Planting Spring Bulbs
After removing all the annual flowers from this bed behind the house, we set to planting bulbs—hundreds of them: we planted yellow pompanette, a lovely double tulip that looks like a sunny yellow peony, daffodils, and grape hyacinths.
We learned our lesson from last year’s bulb planting. You need a LOT of bulbs to make an impact in spring. We planted some 500 bulbs in this one bed alone! (Those grape hyacinth bulbs in particular are very tiny, planted only about 2 inches apart).
We also got garlic in the ground in the veg garden!
Stocking Up on Hay
We need about 50 bales of hay to sustain our little herd through the winter. The bales have been piled into the garage, filling every nook and cranny of space we have left!
Fall is transitioning into winter at the moment. Almost all of our leaves have dropped, and temperatures are getting down into the 20s each night. While that means the days are shorter and there’s less time outside, it also means we get to rest! Fewer outdoor chores mean time to relax in front of the fireplace, play board games, and start planning out the next year.