Except for a couple of unseasonably warm days last week, there’s no question fall has arrived.

The kitchen garden in October

The mornings are crisp and clear, and as the sun tracks lower in the sky, the sunlight has a warmer glow than the harsh overhead sun in mid-summer.

Native Garden

Although most of our California native blooming plants are no longer in flower it doesn’t mean the gardens look desolate.

Our reliable California Fuchsias (Epilobium canum) are still blooming, and most days we find hummingbirds nectaring among the flowers.

California Fuchsia (Epilobium canum)

All around the hillsides we’re starting to see the bright red berries of our native hairy honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula).

Since we added bees to the farm, we’ve noticed many more berries on the native honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula)

It’s quite surprising to see where some of these vines end up, often many feet overhead as they twine through the surrounding oak trees.

If you look up at this time of year, many of the oaks are adorned with honeysuckle berries

In the irrigated native garden near the house, we’ve been pleasantly surprised this fall by the native Sticky Monkeyflower (Diplacus aurantiacus ssp. aurantiacus) that is producing a second flush of bloom.

We had not expected the Monkeyflower (Diplacus aurantiacus) to bloom this much so late in the season.

We have a number of these plants growing wild on the property that don’t receive any supplemental water. Those plants bloom once, in late spring, and then they’re done for the season. When we planted the new native garden in front of the house we added this lone specimen, which does receive occasional water, at least this season while the garden gets established.  Clearly it seems to be appreciating the little water it’s receiving, and is blooming almost as much as it did in the spring.

Remarkably, some of the native sages are still producing some flowers too.

Salvia ‘Allen Chickering’

They’re not flowering as prolifically as in the spring, but we’re still seeing a few on Salvia ‘Allen Chickering’, and ‘Winnifred Gilman’.

Salvia ‘Winnifred Gilman’

I think I may have a new favorite native sage though, the creeping sage, Salvia sonomensis ‘Fremont’s Carpet’.

Salvia sonomensis ‘Fremont’s Carpet’ spilling over the edge of the wall

I planted a few this spring to help hide a rather ugly low mixed block and stone wall. My hope was that as they grew and spread the branches would spill over the edges of the wall, and draw the eye away from what I consider to be something of an eyesore. Honestly, I couldn’t be happier with how these plants are performing even in their first season, and they’re growing exactly how I hoped they would. They’re even producing the occasional flower stalk, in October!

As this is the first season in the ground for this Salvia, we’re really looking forward to seeing the blooms next spring

The native plant I’m happiest with this month though is actually our native deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens).

Deer grass (left), and Salvia ‘Pozo Blue’ (right)

These grasses have become quite large even in their first season, but because of the scale of the surrounding woodland, they don’t look out of place.

Due to its height, and movement in the garden, Muhlenbergia rigens has brought a lot more visual interest to this part of the garden

I love how the grasses move in a light fall breeze, and the golden glow in the mornings as they catch the morning sun.

This grass still has a somewhat delicate appearance, despite its size

It’s been very easy to grow, the deer ignore it, and I can envision planting quite a lot more of it here in some of the more open areas away from the house.

Kitchen Garden

Most of the excitement is in the kitchen garden in October. Although we’ve been harvesting something all season, this is the time of year when the kitchen gets really busy, as we scramble to harvest and store the last of the summer’s bounty before the rains return.

More eggplants!? ‘Rosa Bianca’ just won’t quit!

Believe it or not, the eggplants are still producing!

Eggplant ‘Turkish Orange’

It has been a phenomenal season for eggplant here, to the point that, quite honestly, I’m a little burned out on it.  There’s really only so much Baba Ghannouj a person can eat in one season!

Eggplant ‘Little Fingers’

The cucumbers have had a reasonably good season, when they’re not being devoured by woodland creatures. For a while, during the warmest part of summer, fruit production slowed.

The cucumbers have been crisp and sweet this season

Although the leaves are starting to decay, the vines are still pushing a last modest flush of fruit, so we may be able to harvest a few more before the season ends.

The plants are fading, but there are still few fruits left to harvest

The greens have been doing well, and we seem to have an endless supply of kale and red-veined sorrel at the moment.

Note to self, next year plant more kale, and less sorrel!

It’s not all success though. Beans, this year, for the most part, were a near total disaster.

These ‘Royal Burgundy’ bush beans were decimated, both the beans, and the plants

They started out beautifully this season, and in August were doing fairly well, but then the voles escalated the rate of destruction in the bean beds.

This bean leaf looks strange…

Every time I’d trap one vole, another seemed to move in. The carnage was infuriating. This is the first year that our bush bean harvest has been so meager.

…and this is why. The leaf was concealing a vole tunnel entrance…the sneaky rodent was trying to hide the front door!

The pole beans fared somewhat better, but not much. Of those, our best harvest was of the heirloom romano-type Spanish Musica beans.

For flavor it’s difficult to beat the rich, and nutty, flavor of Spanish Musica beans

These beans have a wonderfully nutty flavor for a bean, and are one of our all time favorites. Next year though, we need to devise a way of protecting all the beans from the wretched rodents.

October, though, is really all about winter squash, tomatoes, and peppers.

Clockwise from left, Jarrahdale, Boston Marrow, Galeux d’Eysines, Waltham Butternut, and Pink Banana (center)

After last year’s Great Heirloom Squash Experiment, this year we scaled back the number of varieties we grew to some of those that performed the best. We also planted fewer plants, and spaced them further apart to discourage the voles. It seemed to help, although we still had a few losses this season, but overall the squash has done quite well this season, with the exception of Marina di Chioggia, which we are unlikely to plant again as it hasn’t performed well for us two years in a row.

It may be October, but we still have a lot of fruit ripening, like this ‘Pineapple’ tomato

I’ll get more into the tomatoes this season during our tomato review post next week, when we summarize our experience with grafting and production this season, but suffice it to say that this season has been a tremendous improvement in yields over the last two seasons.

‘Russian Persimmon’

Between grafting the tomato plants, and a significantly warmer and sunnier season this year, we’re finally back on track with tomato production.

One of this morning’s hods with tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplant

However, this has also been our best year here for peppers! At the moment we seem to have them in almost every color imaginable.

These peppers look quite festive for Halloween. ‘California Golden Wonder’ (left), and ‘Purple Beauty’ (right)

Our favorite producers this year, other than the Padrón peppers, has been Corno di Toro.

Some of the forgotten Padrón peppers have turned a brilliant red

The only disappointment is that some of the Corno di Toro were supposed to be red, but turned out to be yellow, but we’re not complaining.  These peppers have been so prolific that the weight of the fruits pulled over a number of the plants.  Next year we’ll need to stake them.

One of the baskets of peppers picked yesterday

Yesterday I picked almost 20 lbs of peppers, so for the remainder of today you’ll find me in the kitchen marinating, pickling, and canning at least a peck of rainbow-colored peppers!

Time to break out some more canning jars!

Now that some of the summer harvest is winding down, it’s also time to get some of the garden beds prepared for our next planting of garlic and onions.  Hopefully by then the rains will return, and then it will be time to start transplanting all the native plants we’re holding in the greenhouse.  First though…it’s time to work on that peck of pickled peppers!