Berkshire Garden Journal: Fall weekend gardening tasks abound


I am a Master of Mindless Tasks. A favorite task is shelling dry beans. We grow a lot of dry beans of many varieties. As such, I sit in my easy chair most evenings shelling the beans. It might be easier to thresh the beans against the inside of a barrel, but I find hand-shelling to be very satisfying. Besides, it's a task that lends itself to multitasking. I can watch TV or listen to some soothing music and read a book while shelling. Often, I'll show off my multi-tasking skills by chewing gum at the same time.

Not all beans on a plant mature at the same time. Therefore, I harvest every other day. It's easy to tell when a bean is fully mature.

The beans rattle within the pod and the pod is a bit crispy and crackles when squeezed. When I get impatient, I pull up entire plants after most of their leaves have fallen or turned yellow, and then hang bunches of plants in our shed for further drying.

Once the beans have been shelled, they go into plastic bags, which are placed in the freezer for a week or two. Freezing kills any eggs or larvae of bean weevils that may occupy the bean. After that, the beans are stored in a cool, dry cupboard. They'll keep for a year or longer.

Why grow so many dry beans?

For one, they are easy to grow.

Dry beans are also a great source of protein, vitamins, and mineral nutrients, and they form the base for many cuisines. We use kidney beans with rice for Caribbean dishes, white beans for soups and Italian recipes, black turtle beans for veggie burgers and Mexican dishes. Dry beans are a mainstay of our winter cooking. Hmmm, I think I may have just discouraged visitors to our home this winter.

Here are some weekend tasks that may not be mindless: \

Keep your ears skinned and eyes peeled (Ow! That's gonna hurt.) for frost warnings. Harvest winter squash before they are exposed to frost, since frost-chilled squash fruit do not keep well in storage. \

Continue to water Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, chard, carrots, turnips, parsnips, spinach, and arugula since these will grow well into fall, even after frost. Harvest these as needed until the ground freezes. \

Take cuttings from tender perennials such as coleus, pelargonium, fuchsias, osteospermum, scaevola, verbena, and lantana.

Make cuts just below a leaf joint.

Cuttings should be about three inches long. Remove the lower leaves and any flowers and flower buds that are on the cuttings. Root the cuttings in a pot of moist sand or vermiculite near a bright window, but out of direct sunlight.

Place a clear plastic bag over the pot to create a mini-greenhouse.

Once rooted grow the plants on as houseplants near a sunny window or under grow-lamps. \

Consider planting ground covers, such as pachysandra, lily of the valley, creeping myrtle, Epimedium, or ferns beneath shade trees if grass is struggling to survive. These can be planted now. Alternatively, replace the grass around the base of trees with a three inch layer of organic mulch such as partially composted wood chips or shredded bark. \

Shred fallen leaves with your mower; rake up the leaves and put them on the compost pile or create a compost pile just for leaves.

Screened leaf compost makes a great potting soil for houseplants or for seedlings started indoors in spring. \

Keep planting hardy spring flowering bulbs outdoors but also pot up tender bulbs such as Paper White Narcissus and 'Soleil d'Or' Narcissus for forcing indoors.

Place the bulbs in shallow containers of pebbles. \

Order a copy of the 2014 UMass Garden Calendar. The 2014 calendar has the usual colorful photos and daily tips that make it a great gift for gardeners. Go to for information on placing an order.


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