A Garden in Mid-October
A lone pumpkin sits in a corner of the garage. Vicki, of Genesis Growers near Kankakee, let us scour her pumpkin patch for the biggest gourd we chose to carry home the eve of The Local Beet Farm Dinner in September. She also gave me four different types of onion (white, Spanish, sweet and Bermuda), from her enormous hoop-house drying huts, which I’ve put to good use. My younger son, Pikachu, slashed a growling face into the orange orb after we hollowed it out for Halloween. Nothing says fall like a carved pumpkin, awaiting trick-or-treaters.
The Square Foot and uncovered gardens are all black now. Their exhausted soil is covered in last year’s compost—a well-deserved reward for a job well done. As I prepared for last week’s frost (followed by this week’s mild weather!), I tore up every plant except the snap peas, which are still somehow bearing fruit.
As I uprooted the fruitless and space-wasting tomato plants from the uncaged portion of my garden I noticed some chunky slugs hanging onto the undersides of the leaves, and I realized why the garden had been such a popular hangout for the neighborhood birds. I flicked the meaty gray and white invertebrates on top of the garbage can and left them to their fate. I know that inflicting cruelty on pests does not set an example for other pests to learn from. It’s more a reward for the birds, who did a good job controlling insects in the uncovered garden and who looked pathetic trying to stick their beaks into the poultry netting of the Square Foot Gardens in pointless attempts to reach prey.
My neighbor got a far better crop from the potatoes I gave him in the spring than I did and I’m happy for him. He cautioned me to pick my volunteer melons before they rotted on the vine, but I had bet they were really squash and left them to mature longer, even though most of their leaves were dead. Turned out I was right, and the delicious spaghetti squash made a great dinner. If I had to guess, I’d say some seeds from a squash meal in 2008 survived their stay in the compost bin and made a new home in the garden in spring 2009. Not only did this happy accident result in another meal, but the leaves never conflicted with the eggplants, which resulted in three nice medium-sized fruits that went into a Thai stir-fry dish.
The last edible bits of the harvest were the Brussels sprout. Each of the two spine-like stalks bore 30-40 tiny nubs resembling mini cabbages. I sautéed them before steaming, and even my mother-in-law, who hates hates hates Brussels sprouts, enjoyed them. Although my wife maintains that her mom exaggerates how much she likes my cooking just to make me feel better. I’ll take it either way.
The winds are helping cover my lawn with colorful leaves from someone else’s trees. The compost tumbler is filled with the excess of the garden plants and the cages, stakes, netting and fencing are put away for the winter. It’s going to be a long wait until the next planting. I don’t even know if it will be at this house, so it’s hard to start planning already. Looking out over the backyard, though, is a mixed bag of emotions. The piles of dirt that gave us so many interesting meals throughout the summer and fall sit quiet with the promise of another season to come.
With so many lessons learned, I feel confident that next year I can not only break even financially, but beat my current record and feed my family for more than a full week from our yard. Although I made many naïve errors, generally, I feel a sense of accomplishment. I successfully fought of birds and rodents, wind and excess rain, lack of sunlight and insets to grow more food than I had hoped for. With complete faith that the Good Earth will come through for me again, I look forward to next year’s planting with eagerness and determination.
Days family could survive off our crops: 4.5