The flash of crimson in the early morning sun caught my eye as I sat on the basement porch recently, tying the shoestrings of my barn sneakers.
It took a few moments of watching to confirm that the flurry of red among the few fading sunflower plants in a nearby flower bed was one of the local cardinals. A day or two earlier, I’d checked the largest bloom among the cluster of volunteer sunflowers, to see if the seeds were ripening. Not only were the seeds ripe, half of them had already been gobbled up.
Goldfinches have regularly been visiting the ripening seed heads, but this was the first time I’d spied the cardinal there. He, too, was harvesting, talking advantage of the backyard-bird version of “farm to fork.”
Even in the flower beds, harvest is underway. There is no need to check the calendar to know that autumn begins in a few days.
Combines have begun rumbling through our region’s stands of corn, while forage harvesters chop other acreage into bits for silage. While our bird friends do their efficient harvesting with the single, all-purpose tool they have at hand — their beaks — it takes more complicated mechanics to gather in ripened foodstuffs to feed us human critters, and our livestock and pets.
Almost overnight, the field of full-season soybeans planted above the house began showing large, yellowing splotches among the green, as pods ripen and the small beans within continue hardening to full maturity. Tall, waving stalks of goldenrod at our closest pond are topped with fluffy yellow heads, attracting a variety of pollinators eager to partake of their floral nutrients.
Hickory nuts and walnuts have begun to litter the floor of our little woodlot, sending the squirrels into overdrive to grab, go and stash their nutty treasures.
Our pumpkins are beginning to peek out from sprawling vines with fading leaves, and displays of these orange icons of fall are piling up in colorful stacks at local produce markets. Several thick, slightly curled, beige-colored neck pumpkins are in evidence just a few steps off our front porch, where “God’s pumpkin patch” has been thriving since early summer.
I finally gave up trying to coax a few red geraniums to be happy there, after the chickens repeatedly scratched them out while making dust baths in which to lounge. Meanwhile, and despite the persistent poultry, a sturdy, volunteer neck pumpkin vine had sprouted there, pushing out vines in several directions.
Regardless of having turned unsightly, and sporting mildew-wilted leaves after repeated heat waves, the volunteer pumpkin patch continues to push new growth from the tips of straggly vines. And, the grass around it keeps growing taller, since we’ve avoided running the mower too close.
Even as pumpkins beckon, mums push multicolored blooms and cornstalks sport ears slowly flipping upside down, planting is also underway.
Fall-planted wheat, alfalfa seedings and cover-crop plantings are going in the ground, sometimes right behind harvest equipment. Black-eyed susans and purple coneflower seedlings, started from seed I’d gathered from the mother plants earlier in the summer, now fill a spot vacated by harvested potatoes. We’ve dubbed them our “perennial potatoes” because new plants keep appearing in the spring, after a couple of rotting ones were tossed in a small corner of that flower bed several seasons ago. Obviously, a few small ones have gotten missed each time the volunteers are harvested.
Young kale is growing in a raised-bed planter, also from seed saved after the dying kale plants had produced greens for months over the winter and spring. Spinach, lettuce and arugula seedings made in the heat of August and shaded with a row cover are now large enough to contribute more tasty greens to toss into our salads.
A favorite Scripture passage of mine, from the Book of Ecclesiastes, sums up this transition time:
“To everything there is a season, a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to harvest.”
This much-loved, much more comfortable time of autumn brings both endings and beginnings for those of us who plant and harvest for our livelihoods, for food, and for the satisfaction and fulfillment of watching things grow.
To everything there is a season. And fall offers a busy blend, a time to both pick and plant.