The growing season is nearing its end. From here on in, it is mostly harvesting, preserving what you’ve grown and making preparations, both for the winter and for next year.

If you fail to harvest and preserve properly, a lot of the work you have done in the garden will be wasted. There are simple ways to preserve many parts of the harvest that do not involve such major projects as canning tomatoes, pickling cucumbers and beans, and freezing just about everything else.

One of my favorite preserving methods is to do nothing at all.

A cold frame is designed to keep growing veggies warm when it’s still cold out. It lets New Englanders eat their own produce earlier than they otherwise could. This year, columnist Tom Atwell used one to keep pests from munching on his carrot seedlings. Alex Yeung/Shutterstock

In past years, many of our carrot seeds have been eaten by some as-yet-unidentified pest. This year, I took precautions: I sowed the seeds, which do not get entirely covered with soil, in a cold frame. I put a screen on top, not to keep the soil warm but as a way to keep the pests out. Also, I grew two batches, planted about six weeks apart – one in mid-April and the other about Memorial Day.

Success: The two plantings provided us carrots for many meals. Until the ground freezes, probably early December here along the coast, I’ll continue to harvest just the amount we want to eat that night. It’s the laziest way to have fresh vegetables.

The same is true for our beets. They will stay in the ground through November, since at any given time, I harvest only what we want to eat.


The potatoes could have stayed in the ground, but I harvested ours right after the tops died back. The tubers would not have been damaged unless they froze in the ground. We had been eating new potatoes since early July, but I dug the rest in early September and cured them for storage.

According to a newsletter from Pinetree Garden Seeds in New Gloucester, other vegetables that can be left in the ground include arugula, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and spinach.

Once a hard freeze approaches, the option for storage is a root cellar. Ours failed last winter because Maine had a sub-zero freeze while we were traveling, but our crops usually keep well in our insulated bulkhead area. When I’m home and the weather forecast predicts below freezing temperatures, I open the doors a little to let in warmth from the cellar into the storage area.

Since our children grew up and moved out, we no longer freeze vegetables. The amount of vegetables we would eat would not offset the cost of the electricity to power the freezer.

Columnist Tom Atwell isn’t seeing a whole lot of this in his garden. There’s been so little sunshine this summer, his peppers are not ripening and turning red. Denis Pogostin/Shutterstock

The one exception is peppers. When we have a good crop, my wife Nancy chops them up, spreads them out on a cookie sheet, freezes them for a couple of hours in our kitchen top freezer and then puts them into plastic freezer containers for use whenever she needs peppers throughout the winter.

We ran out of peppers early last winter, so I have grown more this year. They are doing great, producing a lot of fruit. My one complaint is that with the shortage of sunlight and warm temperatures, none has turned red yet; the red peppers are sweeter. The one pepper in our garden that has turned color is supposed to be purple, but looks black. No matter the color, its flavor is good.

Many people enjoy preserving flowers by drying them, but with the exception of hydrangeas, we don’t do a lot of that. The hydrangea blooms pretty much dry themselves. Cut them, bring them inside and put them in a vase with about a half an inch of water. Let the water dry out and you have your dried hydrangeas. The same method works for baby’s breath and statice. The University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s September newsletter has complete instructions on these and more complicated drying methods.

Whether it is food or flowers, be sure you continue to enjoy your gardens during these last couple of months before the serious cold arrives.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

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