September gardening: Opportunities abound
I’m just returning home after a week on the northern coast, way up where the rocky points jut into the sea and the ocean mist is laced with the scent of wild roses, balsam and juniper. No matter where you live in New England, September is, without a doubt, the most splendid and beautiful month.
The weather is perfect for putting the gardens to bed, and I always bring a few favorite plants indoors to enjoy over the winter: the geraniums, which have become almost like family members; and my favorite culinary herbs such as rosemary, marjoram and oregano. Scented geraniums and lemon verbena can be rooted now to yield pretty indoor plants.
I am sure many of you are like me and have far too many plastic pots; everyone has more than they need by the end of the garden season. You can start an indoor garden in them with new plants from seeds or cuttings. In addition to herbs such as basil, chives, coriander and dill, you can also start the cold-growing plants, including spinach, the brassicas (cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli) and lettuces, which can then be transplanted to a cold frame outdoors.
Most seeds will germinate at an optimal temperature between 68 and 86 degrees, and they need the warmth and a moist – but never wet or soggy – environment to get growing. Cover seedlings with wet newspaper to preserve moisture and warmth until the new plants emerge, then move them to direct sunlight for growth. Some professional growers use heated mats to speed up the germination and growing processes by placing electric-controlled rubber mats under the seed trays.
A word about dill: Right now, it should be the picture of perfection in the garden and starting its seed heads, so harvest the entire top half of the plant for drying in bunches or preserving in oil or vinegar. You can also just freeze it by chopping it up, placing it in ice cube trays and covering. Try this with your basil, too, and pop a few herb cubes into your next batch of tomato sauce.
When harvesting your herbs for rooting, strip all but the top leaves and make a clean cut, leaving about 5 inches of stem, which will create the optimum large surface. This is an important step – a clean cut with a sharp blade will signal the stem cells to regenerate.
Place the cut stems in wet sand or thoroughly soaked, but never soggy, peat. Make a micro-greenhouse for each plant by putting a gallon-sized plastic bag over a 4- to 6-inch pot, blowing some air into it first.
Keep the cutting moist by misting it every day, and soon you will have a beautiful and happy plant to keep you company all winter. Make extra ones to give to others, as the new plant will stay fresh and green until spring.
Herbs are by far the easiest plants to grow on a sunny windowsill, but remember that all growing things need sunlight. Turn your new plant often so it doesn’t bend toward the window, and it will become straight and strong.
Nurturing young plants to grow is such a joy, as well as a source of meditation. It is worth the little bit of trouble it takes to learn more about it by trial and error on your own.
While I was in Maine, I stumbled upon an amazing thing. While riding my bicycle on a dirt road along the coastal forest with views of the sea peeking through, I found one of the most remote places imaginable called the Good Life Center, in Harborside. Renowned writers and naturalist farmers Helen and Scott Nearing lived here and developed an extraordinary self-sufficient lifestyle and garden. The stone house and nonprofit center welcomes anyone who wishes to learn about our profound and deep connection to growing things and the entwined philosophy. It is a true inspiration to all who discover the magic that is gardening.