September is the finest month for gardening. There's something uniquely pleasant about the light, temperatures are generally pleasant and the weather is reliable. It's a time to revel in the harvest and savor the garden, storing up memories against the winter.

September is also the time when the gardener draws a great sigh of relief. Successful projects are now bearing fruit; as for those that have failed -- well, you don't have to look at them anymore, and there's always next year. Parts of the vegetable garden can be laid to rest under a bed of mulch or tilled to receive a fall planting of winter rye, an excellent "green manure" that retains moisture and returns nutrients to the soil when tilled back in next spring.

With hot days and cool nights come overwhelming amounts of tomatoes -- ripening, falling, rotting and never quitting on those vines. It may seem like an incredible pain now, but keeping tomatoes picked will pay off in the long run. Canned or frozen, home-grown tomatoes are far superior to the mealy, hothouse varieties available supposedly fresh in the supermarket in winter. Keeping tomatoes picked will also keep the vines producing. If you just can't stand to look at another tomato, feed them to your chickens or peacocks; goats and pigs will eat them too. If you're unfortunate enough to lack suitable livestock, and your friends, neighbors and colleagues refuse to take any more tomatoes off your hands, keep them picked anyway. Add them to the compost, turning them under so they don't attract bugs or cause foul smells as they decompose. Next spring you may have some volunteer tomatoes in your compost pile, but that's better than having a garden full of volunteers -- a likely event if you let them disintegrate where they fall.

Eggplants are ready for harvest when they achieve a dark, very shiny look. Picked young and small, they have a delicate flavor. Allowed to get too big and over-ripe, they have a bitter edge when cooked.

Put a couple of layers of newspaper or, even better, a wood board under your pumpkins as they begin to ripen. This will prevent discoloration and possible rot from ground contact. Pumpkins are ready for harvesting when bright orange. You can use the newspaper or board trick with watermelon, too.

More than harvesting should be going on in the September vegetable garden. Peas are popping up, lettuce and spinach are emerging and the spindly tops of leeks are breaking through the soil. Broccoli and other brassicas are ready now for a side- dressing of peat, mulch or excellent topsoil. Heap the added organic matter around the plant stem up to and over the bottommost leaves.

Harvest potatoes and sow the bed with rye. Gardeners who want greens well into winter will sow kale, which survives into January, peeking through snow and frost and hardy against all but the worst storms. Start getting flower pots ready to receive herb and flower cuttings and transplantings. There are nice plants that you may want to bring inside for the winter: rosemary, parsley, impatiens and geraniums, among others. To make sure you don't transfer any diseases to new plants, wash out pots with a bleach-and-water mixture or run the pots through the dishwasher. The plants will be under enough stress coming indoors and shouldn't be exposed to any more hardship.