The fall equinox has passed for 2012 and Thanksgiving is upon us in two-week’s time. It is no secret that this is one of my favorite seasons of the year. Autumn is a time of fruition when one realizes the reward for work done in spring and summer. This year is no exception. My wife, Ruth, and I are reveling in the bounty of the harvest that surrounds us.
Although we are experiencing drought in our region with water tables falling drastically, we had enough rains in spring and warm enough weather to get our gardens started early. One of our gardens is in our back yard in Steinbach where we grow those vegetables that need regular attention: tomatoes, green beans, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, Swiss chard, Zucchini, melons, etc. Because our space is limited we practice “intensive gardening.” Most of the garden is taken up with raised beds filled with topsoil and compost which we never walk on. Between the raised beds we lay down cardboard and cover it with straw to keep down weeds and conserve moisture. Our tomatoes are all staked to metal re-bar protruding six feet upward. Cucumbers grow on a garden gate slanted toward the sun. And of course there is the teepee structure that draws pole beans toward the sky.
By early July the rains mostly disappeared, which meant that we did a lot of watering over summer. I have learned that watering by hand keeps one in close touch with the growing plants. As each plant gets its daily dose of water you can tell how it is doing. And it doesn’t hurt to talk to your plants, because after all they are our friends.
At the hobby farm just out of town we grow potatoes, kidney beans, black beans, onions, garlic, corn, squash and pumpkins. Here watering is more difficult because we need to haul in the water. (Hopefully by next year we will have a watering system in place.) And the farm garden is more vulnerable to damage by animals and birds. We discovered this year that crows are smart enough to know that when a corn plant is one or two inches tall there is a kernel of corn just beneath the surface waiting to be eaten. But overall, damage by wildlife was minimal this year; it seems the deer did not discover our garden plot or decided to give us a break.
At both garden sites we are fully engaged in developing compost to feed the garden the following year. At home we compost all of our household scraps, garden left-overs and autumn leaves. And at the farm we regularly haul pails of food scraps from a catering business in town to feed a highly-energized compost pile. Composting is a natural way to work with nature to produce the nutrients your plants need. Not only that, it helps build up the soil in ways chemical fertilizers just cannot do.
Ruth and I are fully committed to organic gardening in both gardens and so refuse to use any chemicals on our plants. There are lots of ways of controlling diseases and pests that don’t require toxic chemicals. Netting over the cabbage and broccoli beds keep butterflies from laying eggs on the plants. Companion planting helps to control some pests; growing potatoes and beans together is one trick that works for us.
Yes, this is all a lot of work, but it is joyful work because of the anticipation of the harvest bounty that overwhelms us at this time of year. Some of our non-gardening neighbors tell us that we grow amazing vegetables in our gardens. It is clear, though, that they are not prepared to do the work required to see such results. But we share some of the harvest with them anyway.
The harvest bounty actually begins already in early summer. Chives for salads arrive early. So does lettuce, spinach and radishes. Fresh mint soon begins to flavor our iced tea. Swiss chard also comes early to enhance our salads and provide a nutritious, steamed vegetable. Then there seems to be a lull before the storm. But then the storm hits when everything seems to be ready for picking, although it is usually staggered enough to allow time for processing. The first cucumber arrives in early August and from then on fresh cucumbers are part of virtually every meal. Soon we pick the first vine-ripened tomato, and then a crescendo builds. Tomatoes six feet in the air! The largest one this year weighed two and a quarter pounds.
And hold on, the corn is ready at the farm, first for a few corn-on-the-cob meals and then all of it is ready for freezing. Thirty two packages this year. And oh yes, the concord grapes are ready – those we have saved from the birds. Jams and jellies, pickles and juices begin appearing on the kitchen counter. And, hey, the apples on the neighbor’s apple tree are ready. Since they don’t want them, they turn into apple sauce, frozen wedges for winter pies and apple rings dried in the solar dryer for winter snacks for us.
And then it strikes. The first autumn frost hit our farm garden on September 9th which means we will be harvesting the squash and pumpkins soon to find their place in cold storage. And then hopefully the grandchildren will help us pick the dried beans and jump in the tub to release them from their dried pods. And finally the potatoes will come out. Actually I have already stolen some from one plant at the home garden.
Who says that growing old is boring? And who says that they would rather just buy all their produce in the chain store? Poor souls! On this side of the great divide there is probably no greater pleasure than growing and eating your own food. I think this is God’s way. At least it is for us. We already look forward to next year’s harvest bounty.