Saturday, September 17, 2011

How Does My Garden Grow 2011: Harvest Season

It got cold here this weekend.  No frost, but cold enough so that the dish detergent on the counter next to the kitchen sink, which sits right below a slightly-open window, chilled to a solid block of soap last night.  Cold enough.

The tomato vines, which delivered tomatoes very late to the party this year because of a very cool, rainy spring, are finally starting to die down.  We'll probably get tomatoes for another week or so, and then I'll be out picking all the remaining green ones for a batch of green tomato chutney.  The peppers, cucumbers and tomatillos are still going, but even they seem to sense that the growing season is ending.

The farmer's market in town, which is open on Saturday mornings, closes down next week.   It uses some of the space that will be dedicated to the Topsfield Fair, which opens in less than 2 weeks.  It's the big excitement here in town, and for 10 days there will be a traffic jam next to my road.  If you like giant pumpkins and racing pigs, it's the place to be.

We went there this morning, as we've been trying to do most Saturdays, to get some last peaches to eat and freeze, some broccoli, and a few other things that I don't have in my garden this year.  A quart or so of wax beans went directly from blanching to the freezer, the corn we'll eat this week.  We also brought home 2 giant butternut squash, as we prepare for soup season to arrive with the turning of the leaves.

Since Sander was working on the stone wall that surrounds the garden again today, the adorable one and I were on Farmer's Market duty, and decided to make a morning of it by driving out to Russell Orchards afterwards to pick some apples.     We came home with lots and lots of apples, 2 sugar pumpkins for pies, a baby white pumpkin because the adorable one was besotted with it, and one rather enthusiastically large hubbard squash.

Hubbard squash is delicious, but getting into it is tricky - but we can talk about making pie with a Sawzall another time. i-squash-hubbard.jpg

A recent re-read of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has resulted in me trying to up my game on the local food front.  There's an upside and downside to deciding to do this in mid-September.  The upside, of course, is that it's a brilliant time to obtain local food.  Peaches, apples, squash and pumpkins are in abundance.   So are greens like Kale and spinach, as they thrive in the cooler weather.

The downside of my decision is that harvest season is short, and so despite the blackberries and peaches in my freezer, the 50 pounds of local beef, pork and chicken & sausage that are soon to arrive (none spending their lives any further than Vermont),  and the ability to stockpile squashes and pumpkins, and the pasta sauce in the freezer made with our own tomatoes and some of our own peppers, we'll still be grocery-store bound this winter.  

And realistically, for a few more years. But not as much as last year, even, despite the fact that we've preserved far less food than in our 8-day preservathon last year.

The adorable one and I are off with some family friends to my sister's farm next weekend, and if the local farms weren't completely flooded due to Hurricane Irene, we should bring home lots of onions, potatoes, and whatever else we can put our hands on.  Next week Sander will clean the farmer's market out of whatever squash they have, and we'll go apple picking at least once more the following week.  The organic farmstand down the road, Green Meadows is expensive, but open all year.  A market opened in our little town last year with an amazing selection of local cheese.  New sources of 'local' constantly spring up everywhere, it seems.

Next year, with all 8 garden beds in, I'll be able to start far more seedlings in more variety.   One of the things we didn't get to this year was growing birdhouse gourds, or any of my flower seeds.  We can also put in a permanent herb garden, something we've been talking about for several summers now.  And finally, chickens - when is still unknown, but they are coming - we pay for farm eggs now, but at $3.99 per dozen, I'll be thrilled to collect them from the chicken coop, even on cold mornings.

Also, next year the adorable one will be 3, and we can have conversations about why we shouldn't buy goldfish crackers any more, but she can help make homemade granola bars instead.  She would already rather have an apple just off the tree anyway, so it's not going to be a hard conversation.  Mostly.  I think.

It's been an interesting year.  The more I learn about climate change and resource depletion, the more worried I get, and couple that with the economy, and I have developed an ant-like urge to be prepared for winter...and for later.  While on the surface everything is normal - if you could call the current economy normal, almost everyone I talk to on some level shares my deep unease - the sense that things are not quite right.  I think we know, in the same way muskrats build thick walls on their dens, somehow knowing when the winter will be particularly hard, that things are changing.  It is as though we've been out for an afternoon jaunt, when we realize with a jolt we have stepped to the edge of a precipice, and a few more steps would take us tumbling down.

But the more I learn about human resourcefulness, the more hopeful I get.  We may have lost many of the skills of our forebears, but there are many of us relearning.  I personally know blacksmiths, weavers, farmers, and people with multitudes of skills one might call 'quaint'.  There are more chickens in backyards than anyone could have imagined even 5 years ago.  Seed companies are selling out of seeds due to the resurgence of backyard gardening.  What we sow, so too we reap.

This year, our self-sustaining garden has gone from dream to reality.   Next year it will produce abundantly, and hopefully for years later. My one pumpkin may never turn into a field of them, but maybe next year the one will be five.   And then 10.

Soon the garden will go to sleep, and I'll be dreaming of how my garden will grow next year.

Happy Fall.

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