We knew it was coming, but my heart always sinks just a little when it hits. I could feel the still and cool in the air before I got out of bed at 3:30AM. My body resisted (more than usual) leaving the warmth of my quilt cocoon. The first freeze had arrived.
Just the week before, we had temps in the high 80’s, and I was still complaining about the rabid and soulless grasshoppers chomping the life out of our heirloom tomatoes. Bees were busy from sun up to sundown. The tops of the horseradish plants were monstrous green leaves, postponing harvest (to the dismay of some of our Chef customers). Toads, albeit not as many, were still hanging out under the blue bug zapper at night waiting to fill their bellies.
With the first touch of frost, the remnants of Summer quickly disappear. For most, this means a change in wardrobe (believe me, I can’t wait for sweaters, scarves and boots either). It also means pumpkin-spice-o-mania is in full swing, fireplaces are getting prepped and skis are receiving their tune up.
For the Colorado Farmer, the changing of the season is a little different.
I knew I’d come home to rows of sad and blackened, wilted tomato plants; their remaining fruit drooping like water balloons. Through the Summer I put up peach tomato salsa, jams and preserves, and pickle anything I can think of. Fall, however, is when roasted salsa, stewed tomatoes, soups, and roasted chilies have their moment in the kitchen.
Some Farmers will plant Winter wheat to get them through the cold months; some will till their soil in preparation for next season, while others (like us) will forego tilling this time around. The No-till technique increases water filtration as well as organic matter retention and cycling of nutrients in the soil. No matter what a Farmer's method, it's always important to go through a throrough fall cleanup to avoid overwintering insects and disease.
In our state, the crazy temperature swings during harvest end can make life more stressful. The rain, like we received on the Front Range last week makes it especially difficult during harvest, as product should be dry for storage. Nothing’s worse than breaking open a bale of alfalfa in the Winter and be sent into a coughing fit from an escaping dusty mold cloud.
Even though the plethora of Colorado summer fruits and vegetables is at an end, there’s plenty to get excited about as we transition to the next season.
Certain Colorado farms churn out winter squash like nobody’s business. Acorn, Red Kuri, Butternut, Grey Kabocha, Spaghetti, Delicata, Carnival, and the newcomer Butterkin (a delightful Pumpkin and Butternut hybrid) make up a Fall-lover’s heaven. Just yesterday, I learned that the best squash to use for a pumpkin pie is not – gasp – a pie pumpkin. The regal Red Kuri squash produces the most thick and creamy pie with lovely hue and rich flavor.
Yes, we’re excited for the squash now; however, toward the end of a long Winter, I’m ready to scream if I see one more butternut ravioli dish on a menu. So, let’s look at what else there is to get us through this next phase in Colorado, shall we?
The western slope orchards took a big hit with a late cold snap in the Spring. 85% of the organic fruit never came to fruition. However, the local apples we have had are tremendously tasty. The Rome and Honeycrisp varieties are still rolling strong.
Cold-hardy greens such as kale will push through, as will root veggies like beets and carrots. If mulched correctly, they can stay in the ground until January.
Now that the freezing temps took care of the horseradish tops, it’s time to harvest the roots. You think you cry when cutting onions? I have a full-blown toddler meltdown when I prepare horseradish. Did you know the longer you expose grated horseradish to the air, the hotter it will be? The vinegar stops the heat progression in its tracks. Wait 30 seconds before you add it, and you’ll have a nicely balanced batch. Or, if you’re like me, wait a minute, and your sinuses will be clear for days.
Maybe it’s my German heritage talking, but horseradish is a miracle ingredient. While great for liver health, treatment of sinusitis, urinary tract infections, and other illnesses, it’s also tasty as hell. I dare anyone to try my Great Aunt Hulda’s recipe for potato and crispy pork dumplings in horseradish cream sauce and not bless her sweet Bavarian heart for giving such a gift to their taste buds.
I could get in to all that goes in to prepping sheep and chicken shelters for the winter (they drink SO much more water when it’s cold!), not to mention the next round of lambs around the corner, clearing cat tails from water structures for duck season, or how long it takes to process and package a whole moose, but I’d rather start planning this year’s cranberry chutney recipe. (Like this one here).
As light falls earlier and earlier, it’s harder for the farmer to cram all their work in to one day. We’re sensible folk however, and there comes a time every year when you just have to say, “Well, that’s all we can do for now” and head inside to finally enjoy the fruits of your labor.