My first gardening season on the farm has now come to an end. The end of the growing season brings a mixture of dread and relief. No longer will I be able to harvest the vast majority of our vegetable needs from my own organic beds, where I know the produce I’m serving to my family is safe, fresh and healthy. On the other hand, a garden is high maintenance. The work doesn’t end in the vegetable patch, either. All that produce would get carried in and dumped on my kitchen island, where it sat until I could do something with it, which consisted of freezing, canning and serving it fresh. When it rains it pours, as the old saying goes. There were times when a person sitting on one side of the island could barely see a person sitting on the other side due to the heap of cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, beans or watermelon. All summer long we feasted on our vegetables. It was a liberating experience for me to head to the garden when it was time to prepare lunch and dinner, rather than to the fridge for purchased food. I no longer added lunch and side dish ingredients to my grocery lists as I knew I would prepare whatever happened to be available in the garden at that particular time. We enjoyed a bountiful harvest.
My garden successes made gardening fun. It was incredible to see how much the plants grew and changed over the course of several short months. When I first planted my garden, I got frustrated and questioned whether anything would grow at all, and later I’m peering into a jungle of green leaves, vines, and burgeoning fruit. Our rows disappeared altogether and we had to blaze our own trails through the vegetation. It’s miraculous, isn’t it, that all that can be contained inside a tiny seed?
I was surprised and delighted to see the watermelon beginning to grow this summer. I think we experienced success since we didn’t plant the seeds until June. Watermelon won’t germinate until the soil has been thoroughly warmed, and in Minnesota, that is usually the beginning of June. We’ll continue to plant watermelon in June and hopefully we’ll be rewarded with them again.
Our chicken wire fence perhaps wasn’t the most beautiful, but it functioned well in keeping our chickens, turkeys and whippet (that’s a dog 🙂 ) out of the garden. One failure, however, was the fence didn’t keep out rodents. I experienced great damage to my tomato crop due to some pesky critters taking up residence in my garden. I can’t tell you how irritating it is to reach for a perfectly ripe, plump tomato, only to have your hand clasp around a rotten, squishy hole hidden around the back where something has been dining. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say I threw about 75% of my tomato crop to the chickens and compost pile. It’s also plain creepy while working in the garden to see small animals scurrying around in the plants. I will set traps next year to see if that helps.
Another failure was how I arranged the crops in my garden. My knowledge of crop placement has increased throughout this growing season and I will plan my garden more wisely next year. I also had the chance to become familiar with the shade patterns of my garden and will rearrange my crop placement so the shade-tolerant plants are in the areas with partial shade.
Almost as quickly as this rectangular piece of earth transformed into a buzzing, flourishing, dewy world of green, it began to brown, wilt and fade. Soon the summer crops were dwindling and the fall crops needed to be harvested. We spent a few hours on a warm, sunny October afternoon harvesting all the pumpkins and placing them around the house. The jack-o-lanterns will be fed to the sheep, while I plan to use the smaller sugar pumpkins for soup and pie. Ryan pulled up the corn stalks and bound them together for some fall décor.
I like to give the kids opportunities to be active participants on the farm so the following weekend I assigned them the task of harvesting the squash and watermelon. I gave them a wheel barrow with the instructions to pick and haul everything over to the hose, wash it off, then bring it all into the house. The watermelon we finished off in a week or two, while the squash is now piled up in a corner in our bedroom and we expect our store to last us for months. We will enjoy being able to taste fresh homegrown goodness throughout the winter in the form of hearty squash soup and side dishes. I’m grateful for the break in garden chores and to be able to see the surface of my kitchen island again. In January, when the sun feels powerless and it seems all hope of summer is lost, we’ll cuddle under a blanket and begin planning the garden for spring. We’ll order our seeds and sketch a map of where everything will be planted. Then we’ll begin to dream again of working amongst dew-kissed leaves, sun-warmed fruit and sprawling plants.