Wednesday, October 19, 2005

King Harvest (Has Surely Come)

Indian Summer has finally broken, and the nights at last are coming raw into the forties. It’s whiskey weather; the frost can’t be far behind. And that means that soon we’ll be pulling up the annuals in the garden.

Our little back lot, where the mason brick walls of the townhouse form a corner, faces due South. It catches full sunlight all afternoon, and the bricks hold the heat. Upshot: we get an unlikely abundance out of the garden’s red clay, while putting little into it but water.

Honestly. This is the first year we made a serious attempt at growing anything other than the sunflowers that spring from the spilled birdseed. We turned the lumpen earth as best we could, pruned back the thorns, demarcated the edges with slabs of tumbled bluestone. I personally pulled a few handsful of weeds: but that’s the extent of it.

And yet there were yellow squash and zucchini throughout September, from untidy vines oversplaying the edging-stones and onto the lawn. There are irrepressible pink roses still, in mid-October; tangles of basil and dill and mint, cage-escaping Brandywines, clusters of cherry tomatoes—far smaller than actual cherries, not much larger than high-bush blueberries—gleaming scarlet in the great choking green mass of stems.

I think there may have been cucumbers out there, too, at the start of the season, but there’s no sign of them now; the rapacious tomatoes strangled them all and buried the bodies in a shallow grave. Our back garden is a jungle, and its law is the jungle’s.

Next year, we’ll have fewer tomato cages—resulting, I hope, in a better yield, as this year the vines exploded every which way, but the love-apples themselves mostly stayed green, which I attribute to overextension—and certainly fewer cherry tomatoes. They are lovely, improbable carmine jewels in the green, sweet and sunshiny eaten by the handful right off the vine; but in the end they were simply too many.

The crawling things—the squash, cucumbers again, maybe pole beans—will need the right sort of trellis or frame. That’s going to be key, I think—encouraging the garden vertically; the brickwork’s heat-retaining power doesn’t diminish as you move upwards, as even the roof overhang gives no appreciable shade. The patch is L-shaped, the long arm about fifteen feet wide by three feet deep, and that stretch also accommodates our gas and electric meters, dryer vent, and HVAC fan. If we can discourage the overgrowth—everything just ka-bloomed outwards, everything running into everything else—that made weeding, trimming, and picking such a pain this year, we can transform our raucous weed-acre—our Green Hell—into something tidy and productive, something that will feed us.

Big plans, yeah? Especially coming from the guy who couldn’t keep a bonsai alive. Five years ago—even two—I’d never have imagined myself thinking like this. But Man was made to tend gardens: Isn’t that how the story goes?

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