Summer crashes into fall
When my teen girl left the nest a few weeks ago, I had to clean out the trunk of my car to fit all her gear in it. Turns out I’ve been carrying that box full of ice skates with me all summer long, just in case I drove by a frozen lake.
Let me say right here that carrying a box full of ice skates of various sizes and styles is not a good way to improve gas mileage. But moving the box out of my trunk does give me an opportunity to go through it, to get rid of the ones that no longer fit anyone and get the blades sharpened on the ones that do. Because it will be skating season again before too long.
Right now we’re perched on that point between summer and fall, where the days could be hot and full of ripe tomatoes and fresh basil, and the nights could be cold, with a winter squash cooking in the wood stove. Frost is coming soon and the garden is starting to look it.
The big leaves on the pumpkin and squash vines are starting to get brittle and ragged, the tomatoes’ leaves are browning and falling off. Our pepper plants, on the other hand, look like it’s the height of summer, completely oblivious to the fact that one frost will kill them all. I think we have enough hot peppers for a small kingdom of spicy-food lovers.
The cool weather plants — kale and collards, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts — continue producing, and our salads this time of year are based on kale and cucumbers rather than lettuce. The chard would be abundant, too, if it weren’t for a mama deer and her two little ones, who come into the garden every night and nibble.
Unlike their pumpkin-loving cousins who visit our garden around the corner, these ones are chard aficionados, sampling white, yellow and red varieties, and don’t seem to care much for the other plants. At least not yet. In a couple of days they’ll probably start mowing down the peppers, and I only hope they prefer them extra hot.
Like the squirrels running back and forth in the yard, their cheeks stuffed with our drying corn and the bird food the blue jays knock from the feeder, we are readying for winter.
We are gathering from the gardens during the day and chopping and freezing, pickling and boiling at night — salsa and sauces, chopped greens, jams and relishes. Winter squashes will be stored in the basement, and jars filled with the summer will line the shelves of the basement steps.
There are still herbs to gather before frost, for freezing, drying and making into pestos. There are potatoes to dig up, a few eggplants and zucchini still out there, and dozens of watermelons to deal with.
I have to remind myself this time of year not to get overwhelmed, to remember that bounty is a good thing and not a burden. And if I can’t get to every green and every tomato, the chickens and ox will be glad to help me out. The deer will be happy if I don’t pick over the garden too carefully, and maybe some of our guests at Canadian Thanksgiving will get a watermelon as a party favor.
Canadian Thanksgiving is our way of celebrating the harvest. It comes around Columbus Day, and for our climate that’s the right time for a garden feast. Even if we’ve had a frost, dinner will still be coming fresh from the garden.
By November, nothing is growing — although that doesn’t stop us from celebrating Thanksgiving again.
By then, it will be about time to put the ice skates back in the car trunk, and to start trolling thrift stores for extra cross-country ski poles.
If we’re lucky, our harvest now will feed us through the winter, and into the spring, when we’ll start the cycle all over again, planting seeds and turning over the soil, working toward the next harvest, and the next thanksgiving.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
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