Editor’s Note: The following information was provided by Bart Renner, the Transylvania County N.C. Cooperative Extension director.
Fall in western North Carolina is a magical time. The changing leaves and the break from the heat are welcome signs to most folks. Historically, those yellow, orange and red leaves were a reminder that you had better be ready to feed yourself through the long, cold months ahead. But our ancestors were smart, and they took advantage of all that the mountains had to offer. Today, we can just go visit the Transylvania Farmers’ Market in late summer or early fall and we’ll notice a glut of summer crops, such as tomatoes and peppers, as those plants come into their full glory and then fade away with the cooler temperatures (they’ll be back next year). That bountiful harvest is perfectly timed to can your favorite tomato sauce, beans or jelly (ask the Cooperative Extension office about canning).
From this point on, it’s time for our “cold hardy” plants to shine. Crops such as spinach, kale, collared greens, salad greens, leeks, onions, beets, turnips and peas can continue to grow through much of the winter, especially if you can keep the frost and freezing temperatures off them. Other crops are grown in the spring and summer, but are associated with fall and winter because they can store well and we don’t have to eat them right away. A few of these include our apples, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, squash, beets, parsnips and potatoes.
In 1995, North Carolina declared the sweet potato as the official state vegetable, and for good reason: we grow more sweet potatoes than any other state in the U.S. They need to be harvested before the first frost and stored in a warm humid environment for a few weeks to reach their best flavor. That being said, our neighbors in Henderson County are famous for all the apples they grow, and celebrate every year with their apple festival during the Labor Day weekend. Garlic also stores well, and the right time to plant your garlic cloves is mid to late October for a late spring harvest.
Our food, and the fall holidays that highlight that food, were traditionally a part of celebrating and giving thanks for the year’s harvest. Eating in season can be a little more challenging in the winter, but it is a great way of connecting with the natural rhythms of the environment and discovering some of the many wonderful things growing right here in Transylvania County. For more information about the local Cooperative Extension office, call (828) 884-3109 or go to transylvania.ces.ncsu.edu.