Longer Season Welcome, But It’s Time to Move On

10/15/2012 7:00 AM
By Robin Follette Maine Correspondent

The end of the outdoor growing season arrived this morning in the form of a heavy frost. Oct. 9 is the latest first-frost date I remember in recent years.

Having a garden this year that was much smaller than I’m used to has been a learning experience. I didn’t have the convenience of succession planting if I found myself without enough of something.

The prolonged rainy season of late spring and early summer delayed planting time for the warm crops. I didn’t get the corn in until the very last minute. An early frost would mean a lot of stalks but no edible corn. I hoped for an extra week or two at the end of the season to give the kernels time to mature. I was still picking delicious sweet corn at the beginning of October.

The pumpkins and winter squash didn’t fare so well, and I miss them. I’ve been able to stock up on locally grown butternut squash, but my back porch isn’t decorated with a wide variety of squash and pumpkins. It’s just not the same.

It’s mid-October and I haven’t cut a single corn stalk for decorating. Some of the pumpkin plants did set on a few small pumpkins but they weren’t pollinated so they fell off. I’ll be planting in low tunnels next year to be sure I have them.

Everything else has done well. I picked tomatoes from the volunteer plants this morning. I didn’t lose any to early or late blight, and the extra month of growing time has allowed us fresh tomatoes in autumn. Normally, the plants are compost by now because I need to empty the high tunnel, replenish the soil and start the fall and winter tunnel crops.

Steve, my husband, turned under the peas, turnip and other early crops back in August. The very early spring allowed for unusually early cold crop planting. I got tired of picking peas and let them go. The dry peas were planted when he did the tilling. I’ve been picking fresh peas from those plants thanks to frost not killing the blossoms.

The turnip and radish seeds that didn’t germinate in the spring did germinate after being disturbed, so we’re eating those fresh now. That’s not usual; they do well in cold weather, but the flavor is different. They hadn’t been hit by frost until yesterday and didn’t have the sweeter flavor we’re used to in autumn.

I chose a wide-stemmed variety of Swiss chard in the spring. Narrow stemmed varieties typically handle the cold and frost better, but it’s growing well. I do wish we’d had colder temperatures, but there’s a lot to be grateful for this year.

The tomatillos could have used another week without frost. I wasn’t expecting them to survive, so I haven’t really lost them now that we’ve had the heavy frost. They were volunteer plants.

I think once you grow tomatillos once you must have them for close to forever. A few winters ago, 120 inches of snow didn’t kill the seeds. Unprotected seeds on deeply frozen soil survived. The plants aren’t as hardy though. Another week would have been helpful to the plants, but thinking about it, we’ve already lost more than four hours of daylight. Maybe the short days wouldn’t have allowed really good tasting fruits.

The plum and peach trees have done well with the extra time. The frost did damage the leaves, but it didn’t kill them. I’m hoping for a peach or two next year.

I appreciate the extra time this year, but I realize I’m settled in my ways. I’m more than ready to be done with the garden. I feel like I’m out of sync with the seasons. I picked wild mushrooms a few days ago. That’s very late for this part of Maine.

Seed catalogs will start arriving in the mail in a few weeks. I have the Fedco Tree Catalog already, and am daydreaming about what I’ll plant in the orchard next. I went to a Landscaping for Wildlife workshop a few weeks ago and have an idea of what I’ll be planting for the birds.

I’m ready for the garden to be done, and ready to move on to the next season.

Robin Follette and her husband, Steve, operate Seasons Eatings Farm in Talmadge, Maine.

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