Today is September 15th. I took pictures of the garden, making a careful tour to get a sense of how the seasons have progressed from the day I started keeping track.
Rose - Hot Cocoa
Rose - Gift of Life
Rose - Frederic Mistral
Feverfew, otherwise known as Chamomille
Morning Glory Vines - the pernicious weed
Sedum on the walkway with Allyssum
Dahlia trying to bloom since it's no longer shaded by huge Tom Thumb rose
Dahlia which I transplanted way too late in the season
Morning Glory vines growing through the baseboard!
Happy Impatiens--for now! with Hostas
Impatiens in the window box
It seems especially significant this year since it’s been so much colder and wetter than usual. Everything started later and took longer to develop and mature. I’m just now beginning to get tomatoes even though I’ve tried to protect them and give them lots of heat by keeping the hoop house closed—especially at night. In terms of garden bounty, it’s been pretty meager. I have fond memories of days spent canning and preserving, of putting fat red tomatoes in jars that we could open in February for a taste of summer.
Tomatoes this year - Note Black Krim in background
Black Krim and cherry tomatoes
Last year's tomatoes
Though it’s all been a little disappointing, this has been a growing season of lessons learned. I will no longer take it for granted that if I pop a seed into the ground and keep it watered and fed it will grow into some hugely prolific plant with lots of fruit. Keeping a log faithfully has been especially helpful and will be an invaluable tool as I plan for next year. For most gardeners, this isn’t anything new—but I’m somewhat lackadaisical about such things, and not terribly consistent. Just as I never paid much attention to when I did my planting (except that tomato starts go in the ground after Mother’s Day around here—or have in past years!), I never used to measure when I cooked up something until I started writing down the recipes I dreamed up.
So this year is very different. I won’t be putting tomatoes in jars for February, but I did make a beautiful jam from our Japanese plums. And though I didn’t get any peaches from our Jack Frost peach tree, I did make a peach wine from the young leaves. The wild blackberries have been especially bountiful so I’ve been able to freeze many little packets of them. Early in the season, there was more spinach than we could ever eat so I was able to freeze a lot of it. Ditto for the turnip greens that Betty’s southern husband loves so much. As a matter of fact, there’s probably more fruit and vegetable stuff in my freezer than meat or fish.
I keep thinking that all this effort will pay off in a smaller grocery bill, but as the cost of everything keeps going up, I’m still not able to keep our food budget to $50 a week, which had always been my goal. But the bounty of summer is really wonderful. The last time I bought lettuce was in the beginning of May. And over winter, I’ll be able to draw from the storehouse in the freezer as well as from the pantry. When I bought 25 pounds of peaches at the farmer’s market for $1 a pound, I made jam and froze the rest for pies at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I made enough pickles from our cucumbers to last a year—and give as gifts. Even the garlic from the garden will make a great confit to put in pretty little jars and give as gifts. And, as always, our apple tree is a giving tree, with sweet crunchy apples that also make great applesauce.
This year, the zucchini didn’t do well and the yellow squash was less than prolific. But I have enough to make a sort of ratatouille relish that I can put in a jar. I know squash is one of those vegetables that can’t be preserved (I learned that the hard way several years ago when some jars exploded), but I figure that by putting vinegar in for acidity and processing the jars in a water bath, maybe I’ll be successful. In the meantime, it’s been wonderful on the grill.
The change of season to fall seems to call for reflection. Spring comes in with a burst of energy and fecund growth, while summer has the long days and late twilight evenings; and winter? Well, that’s when I want to hibernate, and wait for spring and the tulips! September seems to be more of a turning page of seasonal events and moods than any other. The trees turn to fire, the light is long and glowing, almost as if we see through an amber glass. The air turns fresh and the breezes even blow a little differently. It’s almost as if this should be the end of the year instead of December, and the beginning of a new time. The land begins to go to sleep, as if needing to draw new energy to renew for another year.
Maybe it’s no accident that I love September so much since it also happens to be my birthday month!