The cooler temperatures and changing colors of fall draw many people outdoors to explore what nature has to offer. The summer harvest has made room for many cold weather crops for those in the north, and tomatoes are just beginning to blossom for those in the southwest. Regardless of where you live, the fall garden still offers a lot to be used and discovered.
Pumpkins, squash and gourds:
Pumpkins, squash and gourds are abundantly available at this time of year whether in your very own garden, from the local farmers market or at the grocery store. Pumpkins and squash are some of nature’s healthiest and most delicious ingredients for cooks and bakers, alike. Miracle-Gro and America’s Test Kitchen have teamed up to share inspiring recipes that bring the bounty of the fall harvest directly to the tabletop. But even with these sumptuous recipes - and the old standards, like traditional pumpkin pie of Thanksgiving - the appeal of pumpkins and squash does not to stop at the palate.
Carving pumpkins, gourds and squash and lighting them for carved jack-o-lanterns are a classic way to celebrate Halloween. However, today’s offering of colors, sizes, texture and shapes makes for even more exciting decorative ideas.
•Stack an arrangement of gourds of various colors and sizes, and hold together with wooden pegs for stability. This makes a bold statement for the front porch or entryway.
•Select eight to 10 small squash, drill out a spot to hold votives, and float in a punch bowl for an interesting dinner party centerpiece.
•Drill a hole in gourds and let air dry. Then, paint and hang from a tree for a fun, natural bird house.
•Hollow-out a pumpkin and use as a vessel for a floral arrangement or line with a clear plastic bowl for a festive serving dish.
Apples and pears:
Some of fall’s most abundant offerings are found in the form of apples and pears. Trips to the local orchard to “pick your own” are great family fun, and if you do not live in a part of the country favorable for growing apple and pear trees, these tasty fruits will be popping up in markets very soon. So, what can you do with all of these delicious fruits?
•Apples and pears are most delicious and nutritious just as they are - straight off the tree.
•Of course, make America’s favorite dessert: apple pie.
•A serving or two of applesauce, apple crisp or apple dumplings on a cool, crisp autumn day will warm up any chilled soul.
•Dip slices in cinnamon, peanut butter or even chocolate for a delicious snack.
•Gadgets that core, slice, spiral cut and even peel make apples and pears even more fun to eat. They aren’t just delicious, they are beautiful as well.
•Dried apple slices taste great, but also make the perfect fragrant addition to any potpourri.
•Whole apples or pears can be mounted on floral picks and added to flower arrangements or wreaths for unexpected seasonal touches.
•A simple, large bowl filled with pears or apples makes a lovely edible arrangement.
•Spray paint fruit for a fun (although no longer edible) decoration.
•Pears and apples can be used for printing. Simply cut the bottom off the fruit and dip in a small amount of paint or ink. Then, stamp onto a piece of stationary, wrapping paper, note card or gift bag for a unique design. Various shapes and letters can be carved into the flesh of the apple or pear for more unique and personalized stamps.
One of the most rewarding ways to involve Mother Nature this time of year is to compost anything you eat, bake, cook, craft or decorate with. Garden waste, such as plants that have finished out the season, can be cut up and added to compost, as can the peel from apples or the jack-o-lantern that guarded the front step for trick-or-treat night. Virtually any plant material can be added to a compost pile to become the organic nourishment for next spring’s garden. Coffee grounds (even the filters), tea bags, and eggshells from the kitchen may also be added, along with shredded newspaper.
Use these composting tips to make the most of garden refuse:
•Only compost plants that are not diseased.
•Add leaves and grass clippings to help process compost better throughout the winter months.
•Chop larger bodied plants like tomato stems and broccoli into smaller pieces for more efficient composting.
•Do not add roots to the compost pile.
•Don’t use any animal material such as meat scraps, bones, dairy products, grease, or pet or human waste.
Come spring, last year’s plants should be thoroughly broken down into rich organic matter, ready to enhance the garden soil for a whole new growing season. With a little imagination and some composting, none of nature’s bounty has to go to waste this autumn, and your home will share in the beauty of the season.