Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Aftermath: The Fall Planting

As Fall blankets New England in irresistible clichés, I decided it was time to put down my mug of cider, stop leaf peeping, and gather up the harvest.

The title of this post stems from my new undertaking to read the dictionary. While doing so I discovered the secondary meaning of the word aftermath: "farming new grass growing after mowing or harvest," the "math" part being a dialectic version of "mowing." In other words, what you can grow after you've already harvested. Now that I've bored you, here's a picture!

This season the work horses of our kitchen garden were easily these zephyr and crookneck squashes, with the cherry tomatoes featured at top coming in a close second. These plants gave us our money's worth, which wasn't much since it's so cheap to grow your own food. We slapped together some garden beds out of an old fence, filled it with loam and manure, tossed in seeds and seedlings and were eating the fruits of our labor before we knew it. We started late, rarely weeded, got more rain than any Massachusetts summer on record and didn't have great sun to begin with. Still, we got a haul of über-fresh, beyond local veggies, with more on their way despite the change in season. Like this endearingly deformed cucumber that chose to grow in the corner of a trellis that we found in the trash.

There was also the previously blogged about sorrel, some strawberries, a few spindly broccoli rabe, an artichoke that never quite grew, cilantro that I let go to seed to have more for next year, and the afore mentioned squash, which I find very photogenic and not unlike a brontosaurus.

At present the most exciting and terrifying part of the garden is a softball sized canary melon. I ate its dad at a far-mar in Missouri last summer, and it was so good that I decided that I wanted to eat its children, too. Trouble is, I didn't get around to sprouting it until July, so there may not be enough of the season left for the little fella to mature. Will it make it, or turn into an unripe FrozFruit? Stay tuned.

But as the weather gets colder and the leaves drop, it's time to enjoy the last few tomatoes and start stocking up on turnips, right? Wrong. It's time for the aftermath.

There's a whole lost art of Fall planting in which you sow the seeds of things that can handle the frost and will often produce right through snow. These include Brussel sprouts, spinach, hardy greens like kale and chard and some varieties of lettuce, just to name a few. Then there's growing root veggies like carrots and parsnips to "overwinter," staying in the ground through the frost and letting their sugars concentrate. And don't get me started on planting stuff now to harvest in Spring, like garlic.

With so many options, you'd think nurseries and farm stands would be making a second big push with their planting supplies as they did back in Spring. But instead they sell their seeds back to the suppliers because no one wants to buy them, because in just a generation or two we've forgotten how to grow our own food. None of my local nurseries could think of a single place to buy seeds this time of year. Actually, they did recommend one location: K-Mart. Have we really gone so far from the lessons of the aftermath?

If so, that reminds me of another word I read in the dictionary: stupid.

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