There is something meditative about raking leaves. While you’re methodically gathering up what the maples have shed there’s really nothing else to do but think. It seems as though it should be prime time for mental bookwork for the novel you’re planning to write this winter, but generally I find that after a few minutes my mind slides away to other things, like why manufacturers of leather work gloves can’t seem to understand that sewing a seam right at the base of the thumb is guaranteed to raise a blister there, or whether I have enough pine straw tucked in around my roses. Generally, though, despite the sense of urgency to get everything done before the snow flies–which could be at any time now–these late autumn days are a time of gratitude for me. The harvest is in, and it’s time to take stock of how the garden and I got along this year.
Last winter I wrote in this blog about making out my seed order for this summer’s garden. Most of the varieties I order are old reliables, things that have tended to do well over the years regardless of fluctuations in the weather, but I was trialling a new-to-me paste tomato, Roma II, which, at least on paper, sounded perfect: prolific, disease resistant, and early-ripening. Now, I’m sure it is all of those things somewhere, but not here, not this summer. It was a finicky seedling which never did develop the nice thick stem I like to see. (Given our gusty sea breezes, anything dainty tends to flop, even within a wire cage). Once transplanted, it just sat for a long time, brooding over the injustice of being asked to flower and set fruit, apparently, even though the mini plum tomatoes in the next row were carrying on like gangbusters. By the time the Romas set, the season was getting on, and I guessed correctly that they wouldn’t ripen in time. Since I had substituted this variety for half of my usual number of Maine-bred Grandma Mary’s, my tomato harvest this year was lousy. I managed only four quarts of spaghetti sauce, for instance, when some years I’ve had plenty of tomatoes for eight to ten quarts with some to spare for salsa and pints of crushed tomatoes. So I guess I’ll be working with Grandma Mary’s from now on, and, since it’s an open-pollinated variety, I’ll start saving seed from my best plants so I can create a tomato that’s specifically adapted to my garden. I haven’t experimented with seed-saving, though I have a couple of books in my library about it, so that will be an interesting challenge to set myself for next year.
The potatoes were similarly disappointing, a rather stunning development. I’ve never had trouble with potatoes before, so I was astonished when they sat there just like the Romas were doing, remaining stunted and never setting any flowers. I yanked them out, sure I’d find rotted tubers or something, but there didn’t seem to be anything wrong. I figure that since tomatoes and potatoes are from the same family, something is going on with my soil, some key nutrient they’re missing. I’ll have a soil test done by the cooperative extension office next spring and get their expert advice on what amendments to put on my garden beds.
It wasn’t all gloom and doom in the harvest department, though. I had an amazing haul of cukes and peppers, the best I’ve ever done with them, and they kept pumping out new fruits over an extended period of time. Here’s the thing, though: I can’t quite figure out why they did so well, because I was growing them in the shade. This runs counter to every bit of gardening wisdom I have ever read. Everybody knows that cucumbers (or any member of the melon-squash family, really) and peppers want full sun, and they want a lot of it. But I transplanted them under row cover when I moved the seedlings out of the greenhouse (which I always do to protect the young plants from the wind until they are well rooted), and this year I left the fabric tunnel over them all summer, only raising the sides once the weather had warmed into true summer. Even after years of growing these two crops, I learned something new: cukes and peppers want warmth, and if they have to be content with the 80 percent light transmission under a cover of fleece fabric, they will be. (I suspect they really like keeping their toes warm on our cool coastal nights.) Obviously I will be growing all squashes, cukes, and peppers under tunnels from now on, and I have a notion that the tomatoes would be equally happy if I could arrange such coddling for them, too, please.
I had a very decent crops of carrots, peas, onions and garlic, and my oregano bush has apparently self-sown its progeny all over the veggie beds and the paths between them, which is wonderful. The bees love it.
Cranberries and apples had an astounding year despite a miserably cold spring and a dry summer. I have never seen the apple trees so loaded with fruit. In fact, the weight of the ripening apples actually broke some branches! And this was after I had thinned the fruitlets so there would be only one per cluster! Because of Roof Apocalypse, however, I wasn’t able to dedicate as much time as I needed to make best use of the bounty. I never did make cider this year, for instance, and I canned only about half the applesauce I would normally put up. When I see all the apples on the ground, that just feels wrong, like spurning a gift, but I don’t see what else I could have done. Ah, well, I’ve been able to haul several wheelbarrows’ worth out to the edge of the woods for Bambi, Bambi’s Mom, and any other members of their extended family who make it through hunting season.
So, all-in-all, when I sit down to next week’s harvest feast, I’ll be giving thanks for the privilege of working with the earth for another growing season and looking forward to doing a better job at stewarding my small corner of the planet next year. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.