The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Separation Anxiety In The Garden

September 15th, 2009 · 5 Comments · Posted in garden

Sunflowers brighten the compost heap

Sunflowers brighten the compost heap

Excuse me if I sound out of breath but these last two weeks I have been transitioning from a summer food garden to a fall and winter food garden in what used to be our front lawn here in the District of Columbia, about a mile from the White House.

The seedlings that were planted with so much hope and anticipation back in August finally came out from under their protective covering of row cloth to find a spot in freshly weeded beds: 60 little broccoli rabe plants; a like number of broccoli; another five dozen kohlrabi. It is a veritable riot of brassica–a great burst of optimism and no small investment of garden space–but these are the vegetables we love to eat. We watch the sun drift into the southern sky, a little farther each day, and simply trust that its waning rays will be enough to see our crops through to harvest.

It has always been thus.

I wish I could say that changing seasons in the kitchen garden were as easy as turning a switch. It’s more like separating conjoined twins. It’s hard to see where summer ends and fall begins. The gardener is forced to make difficult–even painful–decisions.

A second planting of green beans has yielded a great harvest. It is easy to bid adieu to the bean plants. After heaving the soil and removing weeds, the space yields to cabbage and collards and spinach. But the second wave of squash had not quite finished their work. They stretched across the yard–trailing after the retreating sun–and struggled mightily to bear fruit. In some cases they were successful. We took a few trophies for our dinner table. But in other cases the squash did not know their end had come too soon. I hate to kill a plant–literally rip it up by the roots–but these had to make way. Off to the compost heap they go; make way for mustard and tat soi and arugula

In some cases the tomato plants were spent after a successful yield. But our mortgage lifters–those at the eastern edge of the garden, in maximum sun–continued to plod on. They had grown over seven feet high. Their branches sagged under a load of green fruit. But we have no more time to wait for these tomatoes to ripen. They are picked green–at least 20 pounds of them–destined for some special preserves. The Roma tomatoes, meanwhile, were less successful this year. We canned only a fraction of last year’s yield. But look! They are heavy now with a second load. We will let them finish their work.

The gardener is guilt-ridden over the peppers and eggplant. He failed to take into account where the sun would be when these plants needed it most. They wound up on the wrong side of the towering tomatoes and are still struggling to make fruit. We don’t have the heart to interrupt them, even though they are now in the way of planting carrots and beets. We will try to work around them instead.

And what of those late-season sunflowers we planted behind the rhubarb? They’ve come up strong and tall. They are only now beginning to bloom. But as they unfurl their giant leaves, they shade our little kohlrabi plants. How long can we afford to leave the sunflowers in place?

These are the questions that test the gardener’s mettle. No, switching seasons is no easy thing. It can be agonizing.

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  • ppolischuk

    We just pulled out the remains of our tomatoes, beans, and cucumbers, and replaced them with various lettuces, carrots, kale, chard, spinach, and tat soi. Let me tell you, the garden seems so much more manageable. It’s nice to experience the hopefulness and control of a young garden again, and we’re looking forward to greeeeeens!

  • mossgathers

    If you dig up those pepper plants, pot them up and bring them inside for the winter, they’ll be safe and happy and reward you with extra early peppers in the spring. They might drop some leaves but keep them watered and when they return outside, they will forget all about this year! I have sometimes harvested peppers in February even when they were supposed to be dormant.

  • Ed Bruske

    Great idea. I’m not sure we have room in the house, but maybe somebody else does.

  • Ed Bruske

    Our greens are incredibly happy, especially the broccoli rabe at this juncture. This is a great time of year.

  • Pattie

    Oh, my gosh, I loved this post, Ed. So, so true!