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Harvesting the colors and tastes of autumn

Gardening at 6,900 feet this summer was rewarding and inspirational. The season started by defeating the voles. We planted the vegetable garden in horse-watering troughs. Even an unexpected frost in early September didn’t dampen the beautiful autumn this year in the mountains. It also didn’t have much effect on the vegetable harvest. After that frost, it was time to extend the season by covering the garden at night and keeping an eye on the potted annuals. The garden has become a patchwork of quilts each night.

With the early frost and then a warm sunny remainder of September, I don’t think there has been a more beautiful autumn. It has been a wonderful display of fall colors decorating the natural landscape.

I’ve taken a more relaxed approach to the final months of gardening. It’s a good year to take some time in the late afternoon sun to walk through your vegetable garden and flower beds, to appreciate the bright oranges, yellows and reds among the green leaves of your plants. Pick those last raspberries or a cherry tomato and pop it in your mouth for the burst of flavor they have only this time of the season. Pick the edible flowers that are still blooming — like calendula and borage — and sprinkle them on a salad or decorate a breakfast plate. Take the time to watch the honey bees finding the last bit of nectar in the inviting flowers. Seeing a lone monarch butterfly on the last day in September is awesome.

As the fall beauty lingers, do some wild harvesting in the late afternoon sun, when the light is making the reds and oranges brilliant on the leaves of the Virginia creeper. The wild pop grass is tall this year, and some sections are yellow and orange. They will keep perfectly for the fall or holiday arrangements. The milkweed have many pods this year. Do you remember blowing seeds everywhere in the autumn breezes? I remember my grandmother letting the pods dry and spraying them silver or gold for holiday wreaths. I prefer the natural colors of the plants gathered for decorations.

Pick those last raspberries or a cherry tomato and pop it in your mouth for the burst of flavor they have only this time of the season.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the abundance of fruits and vegetables in a successful garden season. Again, enjoy the process by trying simple ideas for using your harvest. Make vegetable soups to freeze. Pestos will also freeze well and will add a rich taste added to an omelet or appetizers all winter. Pestos can be made from basil, carrot tops and parsley, using olive oil, parmesan cheese and nuts of your choice.

A late harvest pizza night is a great way to appreciate the last of the fresh tomatoes with other colorful garden vegetables. A good website for recipes is http://www.foodgawker.com. You can just type in an ingredient like eggplant or tomatillos and recipe ideas will come up.

It’s time to really relish the natural landscape in your area and your garden successes. Take an apple off the tree or pick a handful of late season raspberries and sit and eat them outside. Winter will come, but the tastes and colors of autumn will linger. Just “stop and smell the roses,” or pick some rose hips for decorations. Revel in the results of your summer gardening and the beauty of the autumn season in Colorado. You will have all winter to look through seed catalogs and gardening books.