Sunday, October 16, 2011

Killing Frost 2011: A #BAD11 Post

The killing frost has not yet arrived in Central New York, but it soon will, likely by next week, pretty much bringing an end to this year's adventures in the vegetable garden. Already the tomato plants and pumpkin vine have succumbed to a light kiss of frost, while the zucchini and snake gourd plants remain indecisive in their response. The eggplant and tomatillo plants seemingly deny the inevitable, continuing to set a prodigious quantity of fruit.

This year brought mixed results in my garden. Heavy snows collapsed our old greenhouse, so I spent quite a bit of time dismantling and salvaging the metal. I cleared more overgrown areas, digging up the fennel forest, but overhanging tree limbs shaded out some of my most fertile ground. Come spring, the scrub trees will have to be cut.

Animals came to visit, most vexing, a deer that in June ate up half the tomato plants and a good bit of lettuce. I researched remedies on the Internet and tried most of them, but I think that the one that did the most good (apart from closing the fence gate) was hanging little bundles of deodorant soap from the tomato support frames. It did give an appearance of voodoo, however.

Bird activity, crows, I imagine, also led to daily teeth-gnashing. The birds pulled up four successive plantings of corn. Not one seedling was left standing; all plucked up and cast down with complete disregard for my sincere and persistent efforts. The birds also took out half the eggplant and pepper seedlings, all of the brussel sprout seedlings, and one each of every other type of plant. Since it was too late to reseed the brussel sprouts, I went over to the farmer's market and brought 12 seedlings, fully expecting the birds to yank up most of them. However, the birds let them be, and now I have bushels of brussel sprouts awaiting harvest. I like brussel sprouts, but the quantity to be gathered is a bit extreme.

My scarecrow, entirely ineffective.

I was happy to see a toad hanging out around the garden; I haven't seen toads in our backyard in over 30 years. The rabbits, however, I chased away. Or maybe it was the neighborhood cat that kept them away. Having wiped out the mice and mole population last year, she keeps up with her patrols, but with no apparent success.

A new addition to the garden this year and very interesting, I must say, were the five tomatillo plants. I sprinkled the seeds on the ground in late May, and up came pencil-like stalks with a few leaves on top. They stayed that way for the longest time. Then in late summer, after a rainy spell, the plants exploded, growing over five feet tall and spreading around as much, producing the lovely green lanterns that house the developing fruits. According to the seed package, these were supposed to be purple plants with purple fruits, but they stayed bright green. There must be hundreds of the fruits.

I also tried growing Black Krim tomatoes, and I think I'll put them in again next year. The skin is a kind of brownish-reddish-green, and the fruit could be mistaken for rotten meat if you don't look closely enough, but they are very tasty. A hearty, good-eating tomato, but prone to splitting. The seed package displayed an average-size, round tomato, but my plants produced some odd-shaped fruits that easily weighed more than a pound a piece.

I had a good crop of cucumbers, tons of pole and bush beans (both stringless varieties, tender and delicate in taste), lots of herbs, peppers of all varieties, a good batch of eggplants (including the fairy tale variety that I probably wont bother with again), lots of radishes, and not so many carrots and beets (which I ascribe to the overhanging trees that are going to be going away).

Mid-summer, hanging out in the shade.

But most fun of all was the giant pumpkin. After every conceivable setback, the pumpkin plant came through with a 450-pound beauty.  Despite a late start due to unseasonably cold, wet spring weather; a 3-week-long mid-summer drought; a split main vine; and an attack by the dreaded SVB (squash vine borer) insects, the pumpkin just grew and grew. While giant pumpkins notoriously require quantities of fertilizer and pesticides, this guy got his food from a nearby rotting wood pile, minimal sprayings to treat the SVB, and a bucket of water every other day during the drought. He just wanted to thrive.

Which brings me to my #BAD11 question, doesn't everyone want to thrive? And if so, why aren't we paying more attention to the production and security of the food supply?

If the magnitude of the problems surrounding agriculture, food safety, and nutrition seems overwhelming and an individual's ability to influence them remote, then one place to begin is in the garden, whether in the backyard, front yard, or in a few containers on the patio or even indoors. Working the soil, following the weather, delivering water, observing plants grow, watching the fruits mature (and sometimes disappear or fail), and tasting the goodness of fresh produce, cannot help but lead to a greater understanding of the problems and joys of producing food, better decisions, better health, and wholesomeness.

To that end, we would do well to teach gardening in schools of every type, establish and support community gardens, and attach gardens to residential, educational, and institutional facilities. This would be a small, but effective step in restoring a healthy relationship with food.

1 comment:

  1. I think you are right, more people need to be involved in growing. It's hard to devalue food when you have been nursing your own small crop through troubles. I'd love it if everyone was able to grow.