Wednesday, September 30, 2009

4-Season Gardening

I've been part of a community garden this summer, but before we even started, a local farmer came to talk to the six of us. "There's the spring garden, the summer garden, and the fall garden," he said.

We were particularly glad to hear about the summer garden since we had already missed the spring garden by a wide swath. It was July 1st when the first person planted the first seed. Well, she'd been nurturing squash plants, cucumber vines, and tomatoes in pots on her patio. She was really happy to put those babies in the ground.

And, by the way, i was really happy that she planted her extra butternut squash seedlings in my 9x12 plot.

By August, she had bought herself a small freezer in which to put her abundant harvest.

In my vegetable garden at home, i'm just now clearing away the summer vegetables in anticipation of the first frost. Suddenly, i see the fall garden that's been hiding underneath and behind all that green and browning camouflage. Rainbow chard, carrots, beets, broccoli, and kale. One pumpkin vine has run amok, twisting around the garden like intestines and i have the best pumpkin crop i've ever had. Gourd vines have wound themselves over the back fence, so i have a good supply of seasonal decorations.

Spring, summer, fall. There is even a winter garden. Two years ago, my 7-year-old granddaughter wanted to go dig something out of the garden for dinner the day after Christmas. So there we were at 5:00, flashlights in mittened-hands, digging up leeks and parsnips. A voice called to us through the dim evening, and my gardening neighbor, Connie, snowshoed up to see what we were doing. Gardening in the snow, of course.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Dead Chipmunk

Pine cones have been falling at a brisk rate these past two weeks. Perhaps the squirrels have been carpet-bombing the pine needle covered floor of the forest, then rushing down to stockpile their winter food supply.

On a path through the woods, i find a dead chipmunk, who possibly made an aerial misstep a hundred feet above. He's been dead a few days from the looks of it, yet his carcass is moving. I squat down and lift it slightly with a twig. An orange- and black-striped insect hurries under cover. He's trying to move the chipmunk body but doesn't want to be seen. A big, green fly lands on the corpse and walks around, stopping at the open black eyeball.

The chipmunk is decaying, visibly so. I too am of the nature to decay.

The beetle and the fly just stopped by for lunch. They're just minding their own business with no malice intended. In fact, we could say they're just helping the recycling process. We could say that we too are recycling every time we put a forkful of food in our mouths and chew it up.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Chili Vermont

Tomatillos. I suppose they really should be grown south of the border, at least south of the border of Vermont where i live. But these green tomatoes in a husk reseed themselves prolifically in my vegetable garden. So i let them have their way because i love chili verde. The green sauce and green salsa that you find in Mexican restaurants are made with tomatillos.

In August and September i dice them into homemade salsa. Now i'm cleaning up the vegetable garden in preparation for the first frost and harvesting hundreds of these tomatillos still in their green husks. I store them in my unheated basement, and they will last until this time next year. No canning. No freezing. All i have to do is remember that i have a fresh vegetables downstairs, waiting to jump into the chili pot, roll into goulash or spike into Spanish rice. Any time i would normally cook with tomatoes in the winter, i use tomatilloes instead.

So when i go back to the garden to that profusion of tomatillo vines, and i frown, "Ai-yi-yi! What was i thinking when i didn't weed these out in June?" i just have to change the accent. "Ai-yi-yi-yi. Canta, no llores." I'll sing for my supper--Chili Verde-mont tonight.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Shrouded in Mist

I live on the high shoulder of a river valley, so at this time of year morning dawns gray to reveal rising mist. The body of earth and, specifically, the nearby body of water are slowly losing their heat into the air.

Summer is shifting toward winter through this intermediary season called fall. Yes, red and yellowed leaves are falling on my flowerbeds as if to season them with a dash of colored pepper. At the same time, heat is rising from earth and from water in the form of vapor.

Earth, water, air, heat (also called fire). I watch the interplay of these 4 "elements"--which are actually the three forms of matter--solid, liquid, gas--plus the heat required to transubstantiate one element into another.

River water transmutes into water vapor, losing its heat in the process--the death of summer. A slower process than the death of the physical body. One of the signs of impending death is that our body loses its heat. "People die from the feet up," my father told me. The body first withdraws heat from its extremities.

Steam rises from the teacup in my hand as i gaze out the window at the backyard, shrouded in mist.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Final Garden Tour of the Season

Perennial Swappers toured my fall garden this evening. "You're the bookends of the season,"someone said gaily.

Swappers visit my spring garden the first Thursday in May when every gardener's green fingers are itching. And they visit again on the Thursday after fall equinox. In our little community, the garden touring season begins and ends in my garden.

"Aren't you bored with my gardens?" i ask the organizer. "Wouldn't you like to visit someone else's garden?"

But while most green thumbs are bemoaning a lack of color, i still have plenty. Blue monkshood sits atop pink turtlehead which jumbles with magenta phlox and is framed by tall blue-purple asters. Violet ironweed blooms nearby.

White chenille stalks of sanguisorba point skyward like a birthday cake with way too many candles. Pale pink anemone Robustissima floats above it all.

In the yellow garden, cup plant (Silphium) has nearly ended its reign as the tallest flower in the garden, while a colony of nearby helenium are winning the beauty contest with their crimson coronas. Redbud's heart-shaped leaves are already yellowing.

While most gardeners are throwing in the trowel, i'm readying mine for two more months of serious dividing and transplanting.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Heart-colored Zinnias

This year i'm losing my heart to zinnias. A few years ago, my sister-in-law had a bouquet of them sitting on the island in her kitchen. They looked so bright and cheery, i planted some the next year and the next.

Living in the north woods, it's only mid-August and September that the zinnias burst into the fullness they attain earlier farther south. Now, at fall equinox, with threat of frosts in the high ground, i cut a zinnia bouquet every day. Crimson, pink, orange, magenta, peach and one yellow. This psychedelic combination of colors from the '70s cheers me into thinking summer will surely last a few more days.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Farewell to Hummingbirds

The hummingbirds have left. Like summer people, they live here in the north country from May 10 to September 10--only four months of the year. Yet i am so happy to see them come and so sad to see them go.

I was walking through my herb garden on September 8, when a hummingbird flew toward me, hovered in front of my face for five seconds, then zoomed off.

Wow! i thought, and Odd.

A few days later, i realize i haven't seen a hummingbird since. She must have been saying, "Thanks for all the flowers. See you next year. We're leaving now. Bye."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Money Plant Magic

Money plant (Lunaria) has gone to seed, its flat oblong brown pods clinging to stiff stems. I go out now to my flower bed and uproot this dead biennial until I have a handful of stalks. Then I shake them over the flower bed like a magic wand. Abracadabra. Next year I want flowers here!

The seed membranes fly off and float to earth. A few shakes later, all that remains in my hand is bouquet of silver “coins” on a stem, luminescent in the sunny cool late summer day. Without spending any money on flower seeds or on seedlings, my garden will have blooms aplenty next spring.