Carolyn Singer: Celebrate the harvest! |

Carolyn Singer: Celebrate the harvest!

Tomatillos are ready for harvest when the husk splits open.
Photo by Carolyn Singer |

As the light softens and cooler temperatures arrive, there’s a hint of autumn. One day this week I lingered with my coffee on the porch in the quiet of early morning, watching a dozen baby quail and their protective parents scratch for seed in an open field to the east. With somewhat cooler weather, I do not need to rush to the garden to harvest.

September is truly a month of abundance and joy.

Eventually I made my way to the edible garden to complete a harvest of tomatillos, the day’s priority. Vines I planted are loaded with fruit which will drop into the straw mulch if I don’t pick it when it is ready.

I have three distinctly different cultivars of this interesting crop. One produces large green tomatillos (‘Cisneros’), another has smaller fruit, and a third green fruit with a purple cast where the husk splits open. Sometimes the husks are tan when the fruit is ready, but more often they are a light green. Ripe tomatillos are ready even when they are bright green. Sometimes the larger fruits will have a yellow cast.

Large or small, the developing fruit fills the protective husk. It is the opening of this thin papery husk that signals to me tomatillos are ready. The roasted salsa, with serrano peppers, garlic, and white onions, is a staple in our family. As I gather the crop, the fragrance reminds me of Septembers past and winter meals to come.

The September harvest of tomatillos is from the plants I grew intentionally. A later harvest will be added when the plants growing as volunteers near the winter squash bring in a crop. To plant the squash, last years’ compost pile was spread. Surrounding the squash is a “hedge” of tomatillos, all volunteers from the plants thrown on the compost at the end of last year’s garden. A joyful result of gardening organically.

Harvest of edibles is a shared celebration. Many of my visitors have been leaving with a bag of ‘Flame’ seedless grapes picked in the mid-morning as the sun warms the clusters. Last year raccoons took the entire harvest, but this year those rascals have been focused on the earthworms in the vegetable garden, allowing me to enjoy and share weeks of grapes.

In Sonoma County this next week, an enthusiastic celebration of the shared harvest takes place at the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. Now in its sixth year, the Heirloom Expo ( Sept. 6-8 is billed as the largest heritage food event in the world. What began as a seed, a plan to celebrate heirloom vegetables and fruits, grew into an amazing event within one year.

As a participant for two years, and then an attendee with camera in hand, I have savored the beauty and power of this annual tribute to the harvest. So much to learn, and so much to share, the speakers alone would be reason to attend. As would the displays. Or the vendors of healthy foods. The gathering is a wonderful event for children of all ages.

Closer to home, another event celebrating the harvest focusses on tomatoes grown in Nevada County. On Sept. 10th, 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m., the local Master Gardeners host their “Bite Me” event at the demonstration garden within the NID business center. Join others to decide the best tasting cultivars (really, how can you narrow it down to just one?!?), then plan to include it (or them) in your garden next year.

Whether you are participating in a special celebration of the harvest or simply savoring the local offering of edibles at a farmers’ market, take a moment to appreciate our county’s abundance. We are truly fortunate. Take time to express your appreciation to a local farmer.

Connections with gardeners are valuable whether you are a gardener yourself (beginning or experienced), or strictly a consumer. As we build community through a shared harvest, we are in fact acknowledging the potential of our soil, water, and each other. We are also reaffirming our commitment to keep these fragile resources strong for generations to come.

Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom”, and two volumes of “Deer in My Garden” (deer-resistant plants), available locally. Send your gardening questions and comments to Check out her website at

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