Monthly Garden Calendar for Pacific Northwest United States

Organic Gardening Month-to-Month Almanac

Debbie Leung December 21, 2010

Hyper Red Rumple lettuce, Selma-Zebra pole beans, Cha-Cha kabocha winter squash. For 14 years, I was known for the unusual and ethnic vegetable varieties I sold at Olympia's thriving farmers market and through my home delivery program. I grew a hundred-plus varieties of greens, culinary herbs, and other vegetables as well as over sixty types of flowering plants for fresh bouquets on an intensively tended acre. I tried nearly every variety that might succeed in the mild, wet Northwest.

Severely downsized in 2001, my garden now supplies only several families and myself with fancy mixed salads, basic cooking greens, and whatever else catches my fancy. A new berry patch is made up of a rainbow of varieties, designed just to satisfy my cravings.

I remember fondly the small flock of chickens that scratched for insects and slug eggs while gobbling down harvest trimmings and weeds thrown into their yard. When bored, they would break free and join me in whatever I was doing. I'm sure more chickens are in my future.

A healthy rodent population, which the cat gallantly attempts to dent, gnaws on my crops. My Australian Shepherd watches over all and keeps the peace.

Many of the ornamentals around my home share my Asian ancestry. Old apple, cherry, and plum trees, residents on my three acres for longer than I, survive on their own resources with a few big fir trees, an open field, many kinds of songbirds, and a few wild bunnies. It's a testament to the beauty of diversity.

JANUARY

With the winter solstice behind us, the days are gradually lengthening. It is too incremental for many people to notice, but plants appreciate change in the mild Pacific Northwest where day length is the limiting factor for plant growth in winter. My winter vegetable garden will slowly awaken, showing signs that the vigor that shoots forth in spring is beginning to gain momentum. The tips of fall-planted garlic will push through the soil, if they haven't already. My January King cabbage will start to head up. The kale plants, stripped to just a few leaves in fall for a final nutritious and tasty meal, will get bushy again. For a lift during these dark wintry days, I just need to poke around in the garden a bit and break off a few Brussels sprouts, in their prime, solid and plump.

Remove Rot. Remove any produce in winter storage (potatoes, apples, garlic) that is showing signs of rot. Compost those that are totally mushy. But for others with small soft spots, cut out the damage and make a hearty stew with the good parts. Check stored tubers (dahlias, gladiolus) as well.

Cover Control. Peruse the garden for rowand compost covers that may have blown off during the last storm.

Clean up the Garden. Pick up dead leaves in the winter vegetable garden and harvest whatever is ready.

Weeds, Weeds, Weeds. Enjoy a rare sunny day by weeding! Try raking any leaves missed in the fall, cleaning up storm debris, and turning compost.

Water Sprouts. Prune fruit trees by removing water sprouts (the branches that grow straight up) and tangled branches that restrict light and air into the center of the trees.

Trim Your Trees. Give a hair cut to deciduous bushes that are out-of-bounds or a tangled mess. Remove the oldest or longest branches at ground level or at the trunk where they emerge. Thin tangles by cutting out whole branches. Be gentle with spring bloomers because flower buds may be removed in the process.

Get Organized. Organize seeds, supplies, and the potting shed.

Top Notch Tools. Clean and sharpen tools for more efficient use. Wooden handles are easier on the hands if they are sanded and oiled.

Fill in Bald Spots. Look through seed and nursery catalogs for plants to fill bare spots in the flowerbed. Find a new lettuce or squash variety to try in the vegetable garden.

Get Fit For Your Garden. Get and stay in shape for spring digging and soil prep. Stretch the legs and hips; strengthen the lower back, knees, and arms; and maintain stamina by walking, riding bicycles, or enjoying another fun activity.

FEBRUARY

People who don't garden think it's a joke—planting bare root plants and trees—because they look like dead sticks. What's more, the more "dead" they look, the better they'll grow. That is because they are being sold when dormant, a time when they naturally "sleep" through the winter. Bare root plants that have green shoots or growing points are breaking out of dormancy early and may succumb to harsh weather still ahead. Available this month, bare root fruit trees, roses, and cane berries are less expensive than those in pots. There are often more varieties to select from in nurseries or through mail order, and they will grow well if purchased from reputable nurseries. Plant your purchases right away. If a planting spot is not ready for the permanent resident, just stick it in the ground somewhere, keep it watered if nature doesn't, and transplant when the spot is ready.

Order Up! Order seeds, plants, and supplies from catalogs. To minimize pest and disease problems, find varieties that are best suited to your garden's sun (or shade), soil, and water conditions. Think about color and food for the entire growing season, not just the spring and summer.

Weeding and Mulching. Weed and mulch beds where over-wintering greens, spring bulbs, and early blooming perennials, like violets, are growing.

Harvest Time. Harvest winter vegetables like leeks, cabbages, and Brussels sprouts that will bolt soon. Too late? The flower buds of cabbage and Brussels sprouts are tender and tasty.

Perennial Preparation. Divide and move hardy perennials such as raspberries, cranesbills, spirea, and Shasta daisies. Trade extras with friends, neighbors, and family.

Spray Carefully. Apply dormant spray to fruit trees and roses if there were fungal problems, like black spots on the leaves or fruit, during past growing seasons. Reference books, extension agents, and staff at nurseries knowledgeable of organic practices can recommend the right spray for the problem at hand. Follow directions on the label exactly.

Lawn Care. Check the lawn mower for mowing readiness. Tune it up and have the blades sharpened before the spring rush.

Soil Savvy. Get a soil test and follow its recommendations.

Be On the Look Out for Spring. Look for crocuses, violets, and the return of swallows, the first signs of spring.

MARCH

Before rushing outside with trowel and new plants in hand, create a gardening plan for the year. My plan includes a list of everything I want to grow this season. All planting and other gardening chores are posted on a calendar. It reminds me to plant my vegetables in succession for harvests through fall and doesn't let me forget the long season plants that otherwise might get planted too late. A map shows me where to grow everything so that I don't run out of room. And don't forget to plant an extra row for the food bank!

Discover a CSA! If the garden does not supply all your produce needs, sign up for weekly deliveries of fresh produce grown at a local farm through Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs). For a list of nearby CSA programs, visit www.sare.org/csa/index or write CSA/CSREES, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Stop 2207, Washington, DC 20250-2207. Some CSAs have a special focus like salads, fruit, meat, or dairy, and can supplement a productive vegetable garden.

Dress Up. Side-dress fall planted garlic with compost and soil amendments high in nitrogen and keep the beds weeded. The large healthy leaves that result will provide ample energy for producing larger bulbs.

Greens Galore. Sow hardy greens (like kale, mustard, endive, chard) and parsley in sterile seed-starting mix in a greenhouse, cold frame, or in the house under bright lights hung two inches above the leaves. Transplant outdoors when plants have two sets of true leaves.

Herbs and Greens Tip. Arugula, curly cress, and cilantro do better when sown directly into the soil outside.

Pea Planting. Plant peas later in the month or when a week of warm weather is forecasted. Improve germination by pre-sprouting them indoors in a shallow pan under a damp cloth. When roots just begin to show, plant them outside in a sunny spot. If this doesn't work, start the seeds in small pots and transplant into the garden when the plants are a couple inches tall.

Super Strawberries. Plant a new strawberry bed or rejuvenate an old one by replacing about a third of the plants. Start a bed in a new location if production dropped off the previous year.

Blooming Assistance. Pick off spent blooms of early, spring-blooming perennials and bulbs. Prune perennials for shape and remove dead branches when they have finished blooming. To encourage daffodils and other bulbs to bloom again next year, do not remove their leaves.

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch. Mulch to stave off spring weeds and conserve moisture. Spread bark or other organic material a couple inches thick around shrubs and perennials. Trees enjoy mulch as well but don't let it pile up against their trunks.

Plant Patrol. Patrol the garden for slugs in the early morning or evening when they are out feeding and easy to find. They also like to congregate under wood planks. Cut every slug in half or drop them into a bucket of soapy water for the surest control.

Pest Solutions. Set apple maggot traps. Follow the directions from an organic supply company.

APRIL

In the temperate maritime northwest climate, I harvest salad greens almost year-round from monthly plantings. But the first cutting of a new crop is always eagerly awaited. The flavor and texture of leaves from young plants being harvested for the first time just seem more special than later cuttings. There are several varieties of multi-colored lettuces, chards, kales, and mustards. Nutty, spicy arugula is an easy-to-grow must-have in my salads. Other fun greens to grow and toss with these staples are endive, dandelion, orach, radicchio, and cress. Next month when temperatures no longer drop below freezing, amaranth, purslane, and New Zealand spinach will be added to the mix. I grow the plants close together, just a couple inches apart in all directions, and harvest the leaves once or twice a week starting when they are a couple inches tall. When a new succession is ready for cutting, I thin the old plants and let them grow tall, feed them with compost or a fish-based fertilizer, then cut the leaves for cooking greens.

Cover Crops. Turn under cover crops a few weeks before planting to allow them to decompose. For small areas use the "Shovel Method." Slice below the green growth with a shovel and turn it over so that only dirt shows. Do not disturb for a couple weeks. If tilling, wait until the soil is dry and crumbly. Tilling wet soil destroys healthy soil structure and wet clay soil turns into rock.

Amend Your Soil. Add amendments to the soil based on recommendations from a soil test. Call your agricultural extension office, master gardeners program, or organic gardening center for reputable soil testing organizations.

Greens Galore. Start monthly successions of tasty and nutritious greens for salads and cooking all season long. Lettuces, kales, mizuna, mustards, and chards can be sown indoors under bright lights and planted outside when there are two true leaves. Curly cress and arugula prefer to be sown directly outside.

Transplant Tip. Sow or plant purchased transplants of broccoli and cabbage. Sow carrots, which do not like being transplanted. Try two or three varieties, each ripening 7-10 days apart, to extend the harvest for several weeks.

Happy Herbs. Plant herbs like parsley, oregano, and rosemary in a sunny spot close to the back door for easy access when cooking. Cilantro grows best from seed sown directly outside. Broadcast a little patience—it takes at least two weeks to germinate. Save room for basil, which cannot be planted until after the last frost date in mid-May.

Perennial Power. Divide and move hardy perennials to better or additional locations. Buy new ones and plant now even though some may not yet be blooming. They get established better when planted now because spring rain reduces the need for vigilant watering.

Pretty Pansies. Brighten a shady corner with low mounds of colorful pansies that will bloom until mid-summer.

Row Cover. Use permeable row covers to protect seedlings and transplants from frost. When the edges are buried completely to form a tight barrier, row covers also protect carrots, radishes, and mustard plants from the fly that gives birth to root maggots. These covers can keep out flea beetles, too, which chew tiny holes in bok choy, arugula, and mizuna leaves.

Fertilizer Tip. Fertilize June-bearing strawberries with a balanced organic fertilizer.

* Apply a slow-release organic lawn fertilizer for healthy grass all spring and summer. Sharpen the mower blade before the first mowing. For strong, thick grass, mow the grass high, 3-4 inches tall. Leave the clippings where they fall to add nitrogen and organic matter to the soil.

MAY

Before moving to the maritime northwest nearly thirty years ago, friends fed me tall tales about life in this land of persistent rain. A natural layer of mossy slime would replace my tan and I would develop a special relationship with monster slugs. But when I started farming here and worked outside every day, I was among the few in town with a tan. It's true about the slugs, though. I once left a bowl of cat food out on the porch at night and woke up to the sound of slugs chewing it!

In the garden, daily slug patrols in the evening or early morning for a couple weeks can drastically reduce the slug population. Look among their favorite food plants like lettuce and the tender shoots of young perennials. Then catch them in their favorite moist, dark hiding places, like under wood planks or in the grassy edges that surround the garden. Cut every one in half or drop into a bucket of soapy water. Gadgets on the market can be fun to try, but the patrols are foolproof.

Frosty Tip. Wait until the last-frost date this month to put out fuchsia baskets and plant frost-sensitive vegetables and flowers like tomatoes, basil, and impatiens outside without protection.

Hurray for Raised Beds. Raised beds and plastic mulch can help increase the soil temperature faster for strong, early growth of heat-loving plants like peppers, cucumbers, and melons.

Veggie Delight. One planting of early, mid, and late season varieties of beans, broccoli, cabbage, and corn easily results in staggered harvests over a long period.

Weeding and Feeding. Weed and feed the asparagus and berry patch early this month for sweet harvests next month. Use a balanced organic fertilizer and mulch with compost.

Weekly Harvests. Keep the kitchen garden productive with a twice-weekly harvest routine. Harvesting encourages plants to continue producing. On harvest day, cut everything that is ripe. For crops like spinach, lettuce, and cilantro that do not hold well in the garden, harvests the entire plant.

Don't Forget to Deadhead. Cut off the dead flowers on spring-blooming bulbs, but not the leaves, which feed the bulbs for blooms next year.

Happy Houseplants. Repot houseplants and other potted plants with fresh potting soil and divide them if the roots completely fill the pot.

Lawns Will Be Lush. Mow the grass high (3-4 inches) and leave it where it lies to feed the soil that nourishes it.

JUNE

My farming friends and I get a good chuckle when we hear people proclaim, "I planted my garden last weekend." It's funny to hear people say that because we start sowing seeds in March (both indoors and out), and continue with weekly plantings through July when fall-harvested crops are sown. Fast growing greens are sown a couple times in August and I'm not done until garlic is planted in October. In the family garden, plant just enough of each variety to feed family and friends for a couple weeks. Lots of small plantings provide young harvestable plants over a long season for fresh nutritious meals most of the year. There is less waste, and less anxiety to figure out what to do with that long row of cabbage ready to bust open at any moment into tall sprays of little white flowers.

Planting Schedule. It's not too late to plant more spinach, lettuce, carrots, arugula, or cilantro. Where summers are hot, get heat resistant varieties. Fast growing corn and bean varieties can be planted until mid-month.

Weekly Harvest. Harvest everything that is ripe twice a week. If it is too much to eat, Take the extras to the office, soup kitchen, or needy neighbor.

Productive Peas. Peas will produce for a long time where temperatures don't get too hot if every single ripe pod is harvested three times a week.

Strawberry Success. To get the most out of the strawberry plants, harvest all ripe ones Three times a week. Note the poorly producing plants and remove them after the harvest. Plants are productive for only a couple years. Transplant the baby plants forming on the end of runners into a new bed for berries next year.

Tomato Tips. The shorter bush or determinate tomatoes are bred to grow to a "pre determined" size and set fruit all at once. They can sprawl along the ground, be tidy in short cages, or tied to 3-foot stakes. The tall indeterminate varieties, which can continue to set fruit "indeterminately," will produce larger fruit if plants are pruned to one or two stems.

Don't Forget to Deadhead. Remove dead blooms from the profusion of late spring and early summer flowers for tidiness and to encourage continued flowering in annuals and a longer bloom season for many perennials and shrubs.

JULY

I ask friends to water the garden and harvest when I go out of town for a few days. "Please—don't be shy! Feel free to take whatever is ready. Don't save me anything," I beg them. I explain that mature greens that are not cut will bolt and the plants pulled when I return. If kept harvested, more leaves will grow and there will be plenty for me to enjoy later. Broccoli will produce tender side shoots if they are continuously picked, not if they are allowed to mature into flowers that develop into seedpods.

Peas, beans, and zucchini will get plump and huge, finishing the life-cycle of the plant by allowing the seeds inside to develop into another generation. Kept harvested, the plants will keep producing in an attempt to develop those seeds. Revel in the abundance. Eat it, store some, and give away the rest.

Healthy Harvest. Harvest everything 2 to 3 times a week. Dunk the vegetables in cool water soon after harvest, not just to clean them but also to quickly lower their temperature and hydrate them to maintain freshness. The local food bank will appreciate excess produce.

Tomato Tip. Tie fruiting tomato stems to stakes or confine them within cages. Plants of vigorous indeterminate varieties do well in cages made of five-foot tall concrete-reinforcing wire. To trigger ripening and improve flavor, stop or minimize water to the plants that have set fruit by mid-month.

Garlic Advice. It is best to stop watering garlic plants a few weeks before harvest. They are usually ready to harvest when they develop a few brown leaves. Pull one up or gently dig under a plant and harvest them all if the heads are the right size. Varieties ripen at different times but all the plants of one variety usually ripen together.

Seed Starting. Unless there is a reliable supplier of fall or winter vegetable transplants, now is the time to start them from seed. They need summer sowing to get large enough to withstand the rigors of winter. Cabbages, Brussels sprouts, spring leeks, and hardy greens like kale, mustard, and chard can be started now.

Lawn Care. As lawns begin to brown, conserve water by learning to appreciate the seasonal variations of grass as it enters its summer dormancy. To keep it green, water it deeply two or three times a week.

Continue with Compost. Keep compost moist during the dry season.

AUGUST

The maritime Pacific Northwest climate is perfect for growing berries. Many varieties are now available, making harvests of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries possible this month. It gives this berry lover the opportunity to perfect her fresh berry pie recipe.

Veggie Harvest. Vegetables ripen and flowers bloom like gangbusters this month. Harvest all ripe produce a couple times every week to keep it coming.

Preserve Your Yield. Freeze, dry, pickle, or can some of the harvests for winter. Freeze fruit for jam-making in winter when a hot kitchen is welcome. Take extra harvests to neighbors, the office, food banks, homeless shelters, or senior programs.

Treat Yourself to Summer Corn. Corn is ready to eat when the kernels can be felt through the husks. Raccoons steal a large portion of my crop.

Plant Preparation. Fall and winter harvests require summer planting so that plants are large enough to withstand the ravages of inclement weather. Plant transplants of Brussels sprouts and hardy cabbages. Sow spinach, kale, mustard, cilantro, and turnip seed all month. Leek transplants will mature in early spring.

Ravishing Raspberries. Prune summer raspberries and other cane berries by removing all canes that have finished bearing fruit. I trim this year's new canes to about 6 feet tall, the maximum height I want to reach when harvesting them next year.

Perennial Party. Bright and bold summer blooming perennials and annuals take front stage. Extend the show by removing all spent blooms. Enjoy the cast indoors by cutting long stems when buds are just opening. Put them immediately in vases filled to the brim with water.

Seed Droppers. A little mess now can mean more beauty later. Let some self-seeding flowers such as pansies, cynoglossom, agrostemma, poppies, and nigella form seed heads.

Sassy Sunflowers. Mature sunflowers allowed to develop seed become natural bird feeders. Watch the spiraling symmetry of the flower's disk unfold as the seeds develop, then enjoy the antics of the feeding birds.

Lawn Care. Brown lawns cared for organically on healthy soil are not necessarily dead (or ugly!). Grass varieties that go dormant in summer will turn green again after the first significant rain.

SEPTEMBER

Unlike the first young zucchini, chopped up with enthusiasm in anticipation of their sweet succulence in salads and creative main dishes, the zukes of summer's end are often disdained. What to do with them now, that we aren't already tired of? Try chocolate, double chocolate - that's what! A gardening friend gave me a recipe for Double Chocolate Zucchini Cake and I like to make lots and freeze it.

Cool is Not Cold! Beans, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and basil will keep producing until frost arrives if they are thoroughly harvested every week. Remove any basil flowers that form. After frosts arrive, there will still be greens, brassicas, and root crops to pick.

Cover Crop. Grow your own fertilizer and improve the soil's texture by planting cover crops where you plan to garden next year.

Tree and Perennial Planting. Hardy perennials may not be blooming, but fall is the best time to plant them. Trees, too. The rain will get them established naturally. Their roots will spread through the soil in preparation for strong, healthy growth in spring, even though they appear idle.

Beautiful Bulbs. Plant daffodils, tulips, and other spring blooming bulbs after temperatures cool. Get many varieties for blooms from early spring to June. Where bulb-eating pests are a problem, sink a wire mesh basket into the ground, fill with soil, and plant the bulbs inside it.

Pest Problems. Prevent pest and disease problems next year by removing plant waste on the ground that can become home to slugs and disease spores. Compost dead or dying disease-free annuals. Diseased plant parts go in the garbage.

Potted Plants. Move tender potted plants to a protected area before the first frost arrives.

Lawn Care. Fertilize the lawn with a complete organic fertilizer recommended for fall application.

Eat Local. Support local farmers by purchasing fall produce like carrots, potatoes, and winter squash at farmers markets and farmstands.

OCTOBER

I usually sow cold-hardy salad greens in early October to overwinter in my unheated greenhouse for freshly harvested spring salads in early to mid March. Last fall I got busy with other things and time slipped by. Lingering in my memory was the sight of young greens hunkering (and not growing) for months in late fall and winter, vulnerable to pests and disease as the days shortened.

I thought I'd try sowing my early spring kale, chard, lettuce, mustard, mizuna, and arugula this year on the winter solstice when day length starts to gradually increase and growth slowly resumes. By the latter half of March, I was eating homegrown salads again, not much later than years past when they were sown a couple months earlier. As in spring, extra early sowings of veggies seem to languish after germinating, becoming harvestable at about the same time as those sown later.

Fall Harvest. Harvest pumpkins and winter squash after frost wilts the vines but before a deep freeze. Delicata and acorn squash are ready to eat. Curing develops the flavor and storage capacity of other squashes. Harvest fall crops like leeks, carrots, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and beets as needed.

An Apple a Day. Apples and some pears are ready for harvest when they taste good. Many pears need to be stored, then ripened on a counter in the home. All apples and pears store well in a garage or basement that doesn't freeze.

Dig All the Potatoes. They also store well in an area that is cold but remains unfrozen. Keep them in the dark, like inside a solid box or with a blanket covering them. Exposure to light turns them green, causing indigestion when eaten.

Gorgeous Garlic. Plant garlic in a sunny spot in rich, well-drained soil amended with compost. Separate heads into cloves and plant the cloves with the pointy end up, a couple knuckles deep and a palm width apart in all directions.

Winter Greens. Winter greens, like kale and chard, will be thankful for some protection from heavy rain and wind. Push heavy wire into the ground to make hoops over the plants. A row cover thrown over the top and held down with large rocks can do wonders.

Dig It Up. After dahlia plants die back from frost, dig the roots for winter storage. Cut the main stalk to the root, gently wash off dirt, and let dry for a couple hours. Place them in a box covered with dry peat moss or sawdust. Store in a cool location that won't freeze.

Weed Watch. Weeds can be controlled in perennial beds and under trees with mulch. It also slows down the cooling of the soil to let root systems continue to develop. Don't let mulch pile up against tree trunks and avoid mulching in areas of high slug or snail infestations.

Prepare for the Cold. Get garden machines ready for winter. Clean them, empty the gas tanks, change the oil, sharpen blades, and make needed repairs.

Split Up Perennials. Divide hardy perennials to expand plantings or give to friends. Now is also a good time to move them to better locations. Plant new trees and hardy perennials to get them established before winter sets in.

NOVEMBER

With the holidays on the horizon and food an important part of them, I asked locally respected cooks to share their favorite cookbooks for festive vegetables. Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten was the first choice of a friend who volunteers her time to make incredible meals for weddings and seminars. One recipe she loves from that book is a salmon salad with new potatoes and green beans. Victoria and Tom Benenate, who make soups and specialty foods at Luna's Deli in Olympia and Shelton's Café Luna before that, adapted many recipes for their eateries from Joyce Goldstein's The Mediterranean Kitchen. For Victoria, another old standby is The Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Marash, which she says has the most useful vegetable recipes. Filled with information on growing, harvesting, storage, and quantity equivalents, she uses it now primarily as a reference book.

Fall Harvest. Harvest what may not survive the winter, like cauliflower, beets, nappa cabbage, and bok choy.

Clean Up! Garden clean-up prevents many diseases and pest problems. Cut out the dead parts of perennials and remove all dead plants. Compost those that are free of disease. Dispose of diseased plant parts in the garbage.

Ready for Raking? It's easy to rake leaves when they are dry and frozen. Enjoy a dry frosty morning by raking them into the compost pile or onto flowerbeds.

Prevent Erosion. Pounding rain can cause soil erosion and damage soil texture. Protect bare soil by mulching it with leaves, straw, or other material.

Compost Care. Protect compost and manure piles from heavy rainfall with a tarp or other covering. Rain will cause them to become over-saturated and leach nutrients into groundwater.

Get Your Tools Together. Organize the tool shed and clean garden tools. Sharpen shovels and shears. Sand and oil wood handles.

Get Fit for Your Garden. Stay in shape for spring gardening and ward off extra holiday pounds by stretching and taking part in fun physical activities several times a week.

DECEMBER

A rogue zucchini the size of a watermelon began a cherished holiday gift-giving tradition. It started many years ago, during a visit from a big city friend who comes by for "farm days" to chat and help me with garden chores on my two acres. In the zucchini patch, I pushed aside a leaf and gasped. There sat a zuke in a watermelon disguise. It must have transformed, becoming "Big Boy" overnight—how could I have missed it when harvesting only two days before?

My friend used it to make a huge batch of Big Boy relish. She wondered how close it was to her grandmother's sweet pickle relish, a family favorite that was slathered onto burgers at annual summer picnics when my friend was a child. To find out, she gave her Aunt Kip, who lived with and cared for Grandma, a jar of the relish. When she tasted it, Aunt Kip said it tasted just like her mother's, one thing she had missed with her mother's passing. The zucchini relish brought back all sorts of memories for her.

Now, I grow a "Big Boy" zuke every year so my friend can make relish and give a jar to everyone in the family, as well as a growing list of friends (including me!), for the holidays. But my friend wonders, "What would Grandma think? It's made with zucchini!"

Order Up! As seed and nursery catalogs arrive in the mail, look for plants to grow next season that can be used for holiday gift-making.

Weed Watch. Weed the winter vegetable garden after several dry days when the soil is less saturated. Once the weeds start to grow, the garden can quickly become overrun.

Chore Time. Now is a good time to do those chores that just don't get done during the busy growing season. These include trimming dead branches from trees and thinning out old stems from big bushes.

Clean That Storage Space. Tidy up the storage area and do maintenance on tools, like cleaning, sharpening, and oiling handles.

For the Birds. Clean bird feeders and baths for the good health of our feathered friends.

Get Fit For Your Garden. Stay active to be in shape for gardening and to ward off extra holiday pounds. Several times a week, stretch and participate in physical activities you enjoy

Start Something New. What will make gardening easier and more fun? Research and start a new project you've always wanted to do.

Learn More About Gardening. Learn more about gardening and stay inspired by reading gardening books. Get ready for next year's harvests by looking for new recipes for favorite garden crops.

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