Tomorrow is the Autumnal Equinox, the first day of Fall, and also the pagan holiday of Mabon. I love this time of year, when the leaves are changing and the air is crisp, and I have the urge to spend a lot more time in the kitchen.
Mabon marks the end of the grain harvest, and much like Thanksgiving, is a time for celebrating the fruits of our labor, both literally and figuratively. As I mentioned in my last post (much too long ago, I know), this year was my first attempt at a vegetable garden, so for the first time I have my own little harvest to celebrate.
I ended up getting a lead test through A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, and the process was very easy. I took a few different soil samples from different parts of the garden area, put it into a plastic bag and mailed it to them along with a form downloaded from their website and a check for around $40 (I got the extended test to analyze the soil composition -- the lead test by itself was around $20). They sent me back a detailed analysis that told me that my soil was okay (barely) for growing plants where the fruit would be eaten, but not the leaves. So the tomatoes and peppers were okay, the herbs needed to go into containers. So that's what I did, and it all worked out very well. I've had an abundance of standard and cherry tomatoes, bell and jalapeno peppers, as well as all the cooking herbs I tend to use most often.
I've enjoyed the garden so much that I plan to kick it up a notch next year. I plan to put in a raised bed, buy some tomato cages (the stakes just weren't enough) and experiment with some additional vegetables and herbs. I wasn't able to get the composter and rain barrel this year, so I plan to do that next year as well (I found out that you can get them through the City of Chicago, so I may do that).
I also plan to try and hang and dry some of my herbs in our pantry, and I'm going to try to keep my herbs growing inside through the winter. My two cats are the biggest obstacle to this -- the only good place for herbs is the kitchen window, and keeping the cats from getting up there and eating them is going to be a challenge. But it's been so nice to have fresh herbs always on hand (and free!) that I don't want to give it up. I'll try and keep up with the reporting as I go along.