Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Lazy Days of September

It's mid-September now, which is a really lovely time for gardeners who don't want to work too much. It's not too hot, not frosty at night, and we're getting intermittent rain, which keeps weed growth down, gives the fall-planted greens a chance to thrive, and reduces the need for watering. This change in the weather allows the gradual ripening of summer season vegetables, which means I can actually keep on top of eating the tomatoes coming out of the garden before they start to get over-ripe. And the fall vegetables have wonderfully long shelf lives - I don't have to worry about cooking down my sweet little pie pumpkin from Musterfield Farm because it's not going to get moldy in a few days.

Okay, so maybe my kitchen table is covered with squash and pears and the windowsill is lined with ripening tomatoes and drying hot peppers and the cute little pumpkin (I don't have a camera until Tuesday, but let me assure you that it is indeed covered with said produce), but I've got a good amount of time before I have to get on with canning the pears and figuring out what to do with the tomatoes. It is SO nice to have a breather from constant harvesting and preserving.

Mid-September is also an ideal time for taking a bit of a respite from gardening and the food processing that comes with gardening. The weather is great for many outdoor pursuits and I've recently managed to go for walks around the lake, bike riding, hiking, looking at the early fall colors, and enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate while sitting outdoors at a picnic table with only a fleece jacket. The outdoor hot chocolate part is a truly special event that can only be enjoyed on certain crisp fall days and then those really sunny ski days in late winter.

Of course, there are fall garden chores that I should be doing, you know, weeding out the grass that has become seriously established around the daisies, turning the compost, mulching the perennial beds, cutting back flower stalks... but really none of that demands my immediate attention. A lot has been written about the lazy days of summer but maybe we should start promoting the lazy days of September. This should certainly include the promotion of outdoor hot chocolate consumption. Sure, there's wood to split and stack, pears and apples to preserve, grass to cut, trees to prune... but most of those things can be put off until October... or November... or even next spring?

Monday, September 6, 2010

In Praise of Long Summers

In my mind, I think of September as autumn - back to school traffic, waking up before the sun is fully up, rapid sunsets transitioning to cool nights, pumpkins sitting on the stone wall at the local farm, the first of the fall apples and the end of the peaches.

But September is really a summer month - just as June is really a spring month. We've got another 3 weeks of summer after August passes us by, which is really a pleasant prospect. First, it means that I can still wear sandals even though it's now after Labor Day because it's STILL SUMMER!! I have an unwritten but oft-spoken rule that sandal season is from Memorial Day through Labor Day, but I think I'd like to amend the time period to Memorial Day to the Autumnal Equinox on a trial basis.

Secondly, more summertime means more vegetable-growing weather, more baskets full of basil, and more time for my tomatoes to ripen and red bell peppers to turn red. In New Hampshire, sweet red peppers are difficult to come by; the past few years, I've picked them as green peppers. This year it's been nice and warm and I'm hoping that the green will start turning to red this week.

I've been pulling a few pounds of tomatoes from the vine every other day for the past 2-3 weeks, but the number of green tomatoes still overshadow the red ones picked so far. Green tomato chow-chow is all piquant and thrifty and good, but it's just not as good as the fresh-picked tomatoes that exude redness or any of the many products that can be created from red tomatoes.

I remember 2 years ago, the first year I had a garden at our house, the red tomato harvest was decent, however, I had dozens of green tomatoes that I picked before the first frost and gamely packed them in paper to wait for them to ripen... let's just say that indoor ripening didn't really work out. The majority of those tomatoes went into the compost pile as soggy greenish-yellowish half-rotten orbs. Then, last year, the late blight hit our region and I lost all my tomatoes in mid-August; I think I harvested 3 tomatoes. It was a sad time for home gardeners and a really tough year for market gardeners and farmers.

However, optimism is a requisite trait for a gardener - hope must spring eternal, as a pessimistic gardener is likely to throw in the trowel and take up a more predictable hobby, like cross-stitch or sky-diving. At least for the tomatoes, my optimism had paid off - I'm happy to report that this year's tomato harvest has been great and there's still a rather long time before the end of summer and autumn's killing frosts. Here's a photo of Friday's harvest; the basil basket is also from Friday. Happy summer!