The length of time I put off “The Big Harvest” some years definitely serves as a barometer of my willingness to acquiesce to the summer’s end or not. The harvest is its own reward, but the beauty of the garden space must be sacrificed in order to reap it. Our garden serves as more than just a place to grow food. We grow our character and our spirit out there each season, too. Each year is different and sometimes I feel quite prepared to put the garden and all of its extra work to bed and get on with enjoying a cozy (read lazy!) autumn.
"I know the pleasure of pulling up root vegetables. They are solvable mysteries." ~Novella Carpenter, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer
Apart from the carrots, veggie yield was not especially good this year, but the uniquely wild beauty of this years garden was extraordinary and will never be repeated. Mullein, Borage, Yellow Dock and a mystery sage all volunteered and we allowed them to stay the season. More of an experimentally productive year and quite rewarding on a soul level. That being said, we’re already problem solving how to substantially increase our yield for next year!
Zone Four gardening truly is a labor of love. A roughly 90 day growing season allows little room for error and demands some time extension on either end of the calendar. We hedge our bets by starting plants early indoors and by covering them as necessary during the erratically occurring freezing temperatures in early autumn. When all is said and done, we definitely do all of this work for more than just vegetables.
The last big harvest of the season can’t really be planned for if one is stretching every last day out of the season. Invariably, we’re still waiting for most of our tomatoes to ripen on the vine up to the very last minute. We keep an eagle eye on the forecast and rationalize that our urban garden is surely going to be at least a few degrees warmer than the reporting outposts on either edge of the city. Plus, a hard freeze doesn’t even technically occur until 28 degrees Fahrenheit. However, it sure is lousy to loose all the fruits of ones labor from too carelessly disregarding the threat of frost so we keep old tarps and blankets standing by to drape over delicate plants, just in case.
At a certain point it just has to be called, done-zo, season over. I’m probably a little bit over dramatic about it, but I really do feel sad pulling up my tomato plants. I always thank them for being great growers and remind them (me) that they are Mediterranean plants and this is the high mountain desert. I always have a change of heart about my reluctance to finish off the harvest once I see the fruits of our labor literally stacking up. Its an informative process on a variety of levels. In some respects its like taking a big test. The final harvest is also a forensic examination, mysteries of the season are unraveled as garden plots are deconstructed. As we harvest our flowers and vegetables we also add to our basket of knowledge the seeds of wisdom from which to plant again next year.