From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer
My definition of melancholy is putting the gardens to sleep for the winter. Sometimes I wonder if the whole holiday season came into being because people deep down in their souls felt the year’s life sort of coming to an end in the fall, and needed to be distracted from thinking about it.
Carol just finished, in December, pulling out the last of her dead zinnias. But we started in late October, taking down the bean poles, rolling up the deer fence, removing all kinds of plant supports, the hardest being the stakes and wire that held up the tomatoes. As we did each task, I was remembering clearly the jubilance of the planting season, the soaring hope of another year, the rising creative juices of both gardener and garden. I remember the frantic work of May and June, the laying by of the plots in July with hoe and mulch, ending (sort of) the constant weeding.
One of my last putting to sleep jobs is cutting the cornstalks of summer and making them into a shock, a ritual to honor the agrarian culture I grew up in, now mostly past except in Amish country. Then we put pumpkins around the shock. It is time for Halloween.
We used to clear the plots of all vegetation and run the tiller over the surface so the soil would dry out a little quicker for spring planting. I’m not convinced that is necessary anymore unless there is a bunch of late weeds like chickweed on the surface. What do you think? Even then, if I had chickens running on the garden, I’d let them peck at the weeds until snow fly. My rule of thumb for old age gardening is not to do today what you can put off until tomorrow.
The biggest job is raking the leaves off the lawns, but when you think of it as not raking leaves but storing up mulch for next year’s garden, it becomes a positive job, not a negative chore. I chop them into windrows with the lawn mower which considerably reduces the bulk, then fork them onto the pickup and make handy piles around the garden plots.
Our garden plots are healthy brats and often resist going to bed when they are supposed to, especially this year when cold weather was late. This was greatly to our advantage. Volunteer lettuce, a tender leaf lettuce type, came up all on its own this summer, and keeping it protected from the deer, we are still eating it in December. The mystery is how effortlessly it seemed to sprout and grow. Carol had planted fall lettuce in the cold frame and it germinated slowly and did not amount to much even with all that extra care.
The same was true of our kale. What we deliberately planted in rows in late summer had a terrible time sprouting, but seeds from the earlier crop came up helter-skelter around the old plants without any effort on our part. In fact they came up so thick, we had to thin them. Now we are eating this kale in December. And guess what. So far, the deer are ignoring it. Anytime you can find something good to eat that the deer don’t eat, you have yourself a garden gem.
Another early winter crop we get without work is second growth cabbage heads. After you whack off the big head, little ones, about the size of tennis balls, re-grow if the weather is right, maybe three or four per plant. I find these tight little heads, especially of the Savoy variety, to be especially tasty and tender. And this year, Carol found a cabbage worm, fat and sassy, enjoying the garden even into winter. Talk about resilience.
So, winter is upon us now. The gardens sleep and I am sad. But guess what. As I write, tomorrow is Dec. 10. What happens on Dec. 10? Daylight begins to lengthen in the evening ever so little. Already the new year stirs, ever so slightly. Nature never really goes to sleep. No need for melancholy.