Of Bugs, Blooms & Vittles: Fruits of fall

Submitted by Chan Mattingly

Pumpkins. Crisp red and golden apples. Foliage so vibrant it's unbelievable. The scent of smoke in the air, be it from campfires or burning leaves.

This is fall, as are foggy mornings, brisk temperatures and yellow school buses. But my fall also includes fresh-fallen ripe persimmons, honeybees buzzing in fall asters and goldenrod, orange monarchs sailing on the wind, and slick coats lengthening into shaggy ones on my horses and pony.

Folk lore would have you believe persimmons don't ripen until after frost, but the first delectable ripe fruit fell from our persimmon trees Sept. 16 this year. I've been picking up a few ripe ones most days since. Over the years, I've learned the trees vary considerably: some produce ripe fruit as late as December and January. Fruit ranges from golden with thin skins to brown, sometimes with leathery skins.

And as anyone knows, an unripe persimmon will pucker your mouth and is most unpleasant! But we've also found one tree which has very bland ripe fruit, with none of the ambrosia-like sweetness of a good ripe persimmon.

Folks who haven't tried this native fruit are welcome to contact me in the next few weeks for local tree locations or to purchase young persimmon trees.

The asters and goldenrod blooming now are providing nectar and pollen for honeybees and other native pollinators. We've enjoyed monarch butterflies on our purple asters this fall, unlike last year when we saw very, very few of the creatures. From releasing three monarchs we raised inside in 2013, we've raised nearly 50 this year and have about 20 chrysalises to go.

Plants which provide fall food for these insects help support them on their migration south, as do the milkweeds and honeyvine plants which feed monarch caterpillars. Email or phone me (812-438-2011) for honeyvine and possibly milkweed seeds. Or go to Monarch Watch's website and order plants for next spring!

Many gardeners have mowed down and even tilled their gardens by now, but ours continues to produce. The tomatoes are slowing down and the cucumbers have given up, but the zucchini and sweet peppers are so abundant I need to freeze the surplus (and perhaps make stuffed peppers this week.) The bush green beans planted July 6 have produced a small crop, and the Ambrosia corn planted the same day was ready to pick Sept. 25 - and delectable to eat!

My late-planted broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower didn't do as well; most of the plants disappeared, eaten perhaps by a box turtle or bunnies who ignored the blood meal sprinkled around them. But we have loads of volunteer kale, as well as cabbage from the spring planting.

Our Brussels sprouts are forming, but will continue to mature into late fall and perhaps winter. I've stripped the lower leaves from the plants to encourage the sprouts, and our chickens enjoyed the feast of green leaves. These are one vegetable that sweeten after frost, and can't be compared to store-bought sprouts.

Soon we'll dig the carrots and sweet potatoes as well as some of the leeks. Other leeks will stay in the ground into winter, to be used as needed.

That about wraps up our fall garden, aside from the flowers – cosmos, glads, sunflowers and cannas – and the weeds. There's a patch of sweet clover that will bloom next spring, and a few volunteer buckwheat plants, both good nectar plants for the bees. And in the home garden, the caladiums I got on sale are brightening shady areas with their colorful leaves, as are the wild sunchokes the sunnier areas with their yellow blooms – another food provider for the bees.

Hopefully my honeybees are taking full advantage of all these weeds I left for their enjoyment! (OK, truth here, I just didn't get the weeds pulled this summer. But now, thanks to the bees, they'll stay till they quit blooming!)

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