End of the Year Veggie Wrap-Up

So… it’s fall. Some parts of southern Maine, at least, have in fact gotten a killing frost. I brought the few annual herbs I have in pots inside the house to save them, as well as my mandevilla vine (small, but blooming and beautiful!), and picked all 3 of the green tomatoes off my plant so they wouldn’t be frost damaged. The next morning, fully expecting a box full of black, dead plants, I awoke to perfectly healthy and non-frozen tomatoes, cucumbers, and nice, crisp lettuce. The more tender veggies are safe for another couple of days or weeks, perhaps.

Round 2 of snap peas and lettuce are getting a pretty good foothold in the cool nights and warm days, and I have been rewarded with a couple very tasty peapods. They shouldn’t be bothered by these early light frosts, yet. Nor should my carrots, finally grown to size after many, many weeks of waiting. I pulled the first ones early last week; sliced and eaten fresh, there is almost nothing better than homegrown carrots. My Everbearing strawberries are appreciating the cooler, drier weather, and have started producing fruit again. For the second year in a row, I have picked more strawberries in September than I did in June.

The Rains of Spring 2009 (and consequently, the lack of sunshine) had more of an effect on our vegetable gardens than anything else. Seeds rotted in the ground before they could sprout, newly planted seedlings suffered with excess groundwater and either did not grow at all, or were stunted. Constant splashing and moisture provided ample opportunity for fungi and other plant pests to grab a foothold and ensure that anybody trying to grow anything would have a very difficult time of it. The green bean crop for one gardener, however, was spectacular. All about timing and a bit of luck, it seems.

This year’s garden was definitely a learning experience. Everything was a question of timing and patience, and recovery. Cucumbers planted in my garden at home and then a round planted here at the garden center 2 weeks later behaved very differently. Mine were stunted and barely grew at all, and the ones here grew like crazy. Perhaps I should have waited those two extra weeks for the soil to warm just a little bit more, or to give them just a little more time to root out in their liners before expecting them to grow in already saturated soil. Both plants, though, produced misshapen cucumbers that looked more like golf balls or pears than nice, pickle-worthy specimens.

Potatoes and tomatoes were a losing proposition all around, it seems. Though my personal tomato plants were not affected by the blight, they did not produce but a single blossom until the end of August. I had joked about not being able to pick tomatoes until October earlier in the season; how I thought and hoped I was only joking… The resulting three nice large fruits are now ripening on my kitchen counter. Squash and pumpkins have been hit-or-miss. Some people I’ve talked to have said they have beautiful crops, while others lament their plants rotting at the base before they had a chance to grow or blossom.

Maine gardeners, I’ve found, are deterred by very little, and as a gardener from up the coast observed, “Frost triggers the onset of gardening amnesia.” Next year won’t be as bad as this year, will it? Impossible. Plans are in place for new varieties, different layouts, and maximizing the small spaces for big production. We will replant, and grow again, because that is what we do. It may be less expensive to just go to the store and buy whatever seasonal vegetables we want, but it is not nearly as satisfying.