Waiting is the harvest part

If you've been wondering, "Whatever happened to those Victory Gardens you Ethicureans were tending?" — well, truth is, after that last big burst of excitement with tomatoes and such finally ripening, things have kind of gone downhill.

It had to happen, of course. Let's face it: in most of our areas (save for those lucky Californians), after Labor Day, the weather can get unpredictable and plants can weaken and wither quickly. Add to that a lack of time and focus — because once those tomatoes start going, you might just forget or ignore everything else! — and the next time you look at the garden, you wonder if there's really anything left to eat.

So at this point in the season, we're cleaning up our garden plots, harvesting our last produce, and getting some much needed rest before we think about next year's gardens...

Elanor's garden, of all our plots, has apparently thrived the most thanks to the temperate Bay Area climate:

While my neighbors in New Hampshire and friends in other places are harvesting cold-weather crops or putting their gardens to bed around now, I've seen a second spring — literally. The Blue Lake beans that I planted and harvested back in May and never ripped out ('cause I'm lazy) suddenly blossomed again and produced, almost like magic, another round of beans. Who would've thought?

The tomato deluge continues, too, though the plants are now brown and dropping leaves. The novice gardener in me had a minor freak-out when this first started happening — did they have blight or something? — but a friend assured me that no, this was just the beginning of the end of the tomato life cycle, and the tomatoes would continue to ripen even though the plants themselves were turning brown. By now, I've canned or frozen roasted tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce with garlic, and tomato salsa (which includes the serrano and jalapeno peppers I'm growing). I know that come winter, I'll be really grateful. Right now, I'm just kind of sick of tomatoes.

One might wonder how anyone could be sick of such beautiful tomatoes as seen above — until you've had your own glut to harvest. Elanor adds that she's also harvesting beets, Thai and Italian basil, and ancho chilies, though her cauliflower has sent up "surrender flags that are turning brown." She'll be turning in her community garden plot at the end of this season, however; having just moved to a new place with "a large, unused garden in the back," she hopes to spend some time yet this fall preparing that bed and making plans for next year.

Though Janet often likes to say she's not a gardener and doesn't have anything to add, she has had a fragrantly successful year with her herb garden. Having used various herbs — mint, sage, rosemary — throughout the summer, she took the time to gather and dry bundles of her remaining herbs to use during the winter. Considering how beautifully she has used her herbs to date, I expect we'll see more enticing recipes appearing on her blog in the coming months.

Amanda claims that this year "will not be known for its garden," given the other claims on her time and energy. Still, she and her family have enjoyed their own abundant harvest of tomatoes — as well as the ever-helpful purslane — and nectarines and apples from their orchard. We can hope that next year's crop proves to be even more varied and more satisfying.

In Montreal, the cold weather has settled in for good, and Peter )aka our Nosher from the North) reports that he has closed his community garden plot for the year after picking the last tomatoes (red and green, two bowls full!). While his broccoli failed to impress, he harvested "a lot of beets which will be made into our winter's worth of borscht." To finish his work in the garden, he "turned the soil over a few times and said a fond farewell." He also collected tomato and climbing bean seeds to plant next year.

Winter has greeted Montana, too, where Charlotte has resigned herself to a short growing season as the first snow came just a couple weeks ago and laid a thick blanket over her crops. "Gone!" she wailed in her email. "I'm hoping the cabbage and brussels sprouts are okay — I'm figuring the snow also insulated all those carrots I didn't get dug up." She gathered enough Gallician kale to freeze and tomatillos to turn into salsa, but her "mutant" broccoli disappointed her by not developing "anything like a head." She has also set up an indoor herb garden with high hopes of keeping her aromatic plants going through the cold months ahead.

We've only seen light frosts so far here in northeastern Ohio, but my own garden is fading fast. I meant to start clearing the bed a couple weeks ago, knowing that the tomatoes had already petered out, but since I found a few things still hanging on to life, I couldn't do it. As yet, I still have to harvest carrots (which can stay in the ground after frost), my kale keeps coming back after thorough pickings, and the lettuce apparently reseeded itself for a fall crop. Like Peter, though, I've started to gather seeds (mostly for beans and gai lan or Chinese broccoli) to save for next year, and I've followed Janet's lead in gathering and drying plenty of herbs for tea. And on a personal note, I am grateful to all my fellow Ethicurean gardeners for all their wonderful work this year, with stories, information, and photos to share with all of you whenever I asked for updates. I've learned something from each of them and hope that their ideas and advice will make me a better gardener next year.

As we gather our last harvests and clean up our plots, many of us are already dreaming about next year. Though this will be our final garden report for the season, we'll be putting together our collective wish list for the 2009 growing season to share with you in the next month or two. I think it's safe to say that we have all enjoyed the fruits of our labor, despite the frustrations of some of that work, and it has been particularly encouraging to hear from so many other Victory Gardeners.

Victory Gardens have historically given people a sense of self-sufficiency and satisfaction, even when the government tried to discourage such populist efforts, and I think that given the state of the economy, we will see many more gardens springing up in future. I hope so.

4 Responsesto “Waiting is the harvest part”

  1. The only thing left in our garden is an unwieldy, but still vibrant, batch of flat-leaf parsley. Man that stuff is hearty. The herbs around our patio also continue to do well, despite it dropping down into the 30s  here in western Pa. in the evenings.
    I wish we had time to can all of the tomatoes and peppers that the garden produced this year. We gave away what we could, but too much of it ended up on the garden floor, destined to hopefully nourish the soil for next year's garden. At least I hope.

  2. BsaB says:

    We had a lot of great tomatoes this year on our garden but unfortunately had a very early frost and lost a lot too. Happy to say we got 6 pumpkins though for Halloween.

  3. Gene Logsdon says:

    Hi Jennifer and all,    like your website. How did you pump air into that tomato without exploding it?  Looks like about 28 lbs of pressure to me.  Good to see you at the book fair.  GeneL 

  4. Fillippelli, your parsley sounds like mine -- I know it will die back eventually, but then it will rebound like crazy in the spring!  I'm delighted with how the self-reseeding lettuce is continuing to thrive, too, even after a couple of frosts.
    BsaB, congratulations on your pumpkins!  I've never had much luck with those.
    Gene, you'd have to ask Elanor -- her tomato crop this year looked fantastic!  It was a pleasure to meet you at the book fair, too -- thanks!