Except for a bit of mopping up here and there, the garden can be ignored for a weekend at this time of the year, if you've kept up with chores until now. Instead, take off to the country to catch the apple harvest at its peak.
Now is the time to pick long-keeping apples and pears -- those lovely fruits that improve as they are stored and cannot be duplicated as a midwinter treat.
Before you head out, clear a space to keep them. They prefer to be stored at about 38 degrees in a not-too-dry atmosphere, not unlike an ordinary fall day in Washington. A good place is your basement or on an enclosed porch that won't freeze your apples before you use them up.
Shelves that have been cleared for apple storage should be wiped clean with a damp cloth and baking soda. If you don't have a dark place to keep the fruit, pick up some cardboard boxes from the back of the grocery store and cover them over with several layers of newspaper after you've put in the apples. Have ready a pile of extra nespaper, torn down to half-page sizes, to individually wrap apples. (Pears should not be wrapped.) Wrapped apples keep longer and if one has A disease, it's less likely to spread to other fruit. This is also true of rot.
Select a dry day to do your picking. Some orchards provide boxes to carry the fruit away in, but most require that you bring your own container. So arm yourself with laundry hampers, baskets and buckets. Ask the orchardist specifically for a long-keeping variety.Pick apples that come away easily from the branck -- stem and all
When you get the apples home, put them in storage as soon as possible. line them up on the shelves so that they ae not touching each other. And wait for that cold winter day when a bite of a ripe fall apple will warm body and soul.
POTTED UP: It really is time to bring in your potted plants now. All it takes is one chilly night to kill off those tender perennials.
See if the soil level has dropped dramatically in the pots. If so, gently lift out the plant, add some potting soil or garden soil to the bottom of the pot, and replace the plant, making sure you leave enough rim around the top so watering won't be a problem. Adding soil to the bottom of the pot allows further root growth. If the plant appears root-bound, consider moving it into a larger pot. Geraniums are the exception; they bloom much better pot-bound.
Put the plants on or near a sunny windowsill. Keep them watered. I have been chided on a number of occasions on my care of wintering-over plants. I do not so much kill them, I am told, as torture them to death. It's true, too, and mainly because of my laziness in watering. This year I'm going to try something new. I'M keeping a gallon jug filled with water mixed with plant food (I prefer Peter's) near the plants, which spend the winter in the living room. If that gallon jug is always there, goes my theory, I'm much more likely to keep the plants watered. We'll see.
ONION CARE: A reader writes, and rightfully so, that now that I've persuaded people to put in their onion sets in the fall, how about some advice on winter care?
I have not yet gotten my onion sets in. I just bought them, but they'll go in this weekend. I dig a shallow trench, drop them in about six inches apart, cover them with three or four inces of soil, and then mulch.
The mulching is important, and you can go as deeply as one foot of leaves, grass clippings, spoiled hay, or whatever. This would certainly protect against serious freezing and thawing. As for fertilizing, if your soil isn't up to snuff, add a layer of compost to the bottom of the trench before putting in the onions. If your onions are already in, and you didn't add the compost ahead of time, sidedress the sets now with compost before topping them with your mulch. You want a minimum of four inches of mulch over the course of the winter. And then ignore them.
Remember, the beauty of putting onions at this time of the year is that you practically can't kill them.