Late Summer in the Garden: Sadness with a Tinge of Relief

With a mixture of regret and anticipation, we sat on the porch watching the leaves of the poplar trees blowing across the field, and noticing the poison ivy vines were bright red. Late summer has arrived in Tennessee, and for those of us who have spent the summer in

The black walnut trees lose their leaves early. These are already yellowing.

The black walnut trees lose their leaves early. These are already yellowing.

the garden fall brings about the prospect of less work, but also fewer dinners featuring amazing fresh vegetables. Of course, the heat will continue through September and there will be plenty of fall chores to do before we are plunged into the dreary months of winter.

The green bean vines that have been so productive all summer are beginning to yellow, as is the second planting of crookneck squash; the spaghetti squash has done all it can and the onions have been pulled. We have jars of green beans, tomatoes, and kohlrabi chow chow put away and we are waiting for the corn to ripen so it can be stored as well. This is the time of year when we begin to make end-of-summer relishes, soup mixes, chow chow, salsa, and try to use up the last

The coneflowers have gone to seed -- which makes the birds happy!

The coneflowers have gone to seed — which makes the birds happy!

bits of produce however we can.

At this time of the year, the garden begins to look tired, but there’s beauty in the drooping vines and yellowing leaves.  Right now in our garden the corn is tall and flowering and the bees are almost symphonic. The contrast between the plants that are almost finished and those that are coming into their fullness is nice.

There are just a few times of year when you can feel the seasons changing. Late summer is filled with a strange mixture of emotions. There’s pride, and often enough regret for the garden projects that didn’t go well. There’s some relief, mixed with sadness, in knowing that the heat and light of summer will soon be passed.

Do you find yourself longing for cooler temperatures by the end of summer, or do you wish it could go on forever?

Celebrate your Garden

Last night, a lovely Friday night with a gorgeous, bright full moon shining down, my family began what is sure to be a long process: preserving the harvest. We’d picked beans several times through the week and picked even more before sitting down to string and snap them. Next came washing and canning. We managed to get 14 quarts canned by midnight; there are that many more to process today.

We expect there will be that many each week until the end of the season. In the meantime, the okra is quickly ripening. We aren’t sure yet just how productive it will be, but it could well be just as generous as the beans. Since pickled okra is a family favorite, we will be happy to have plenty of jars on our shelves. I’m not so sure how we will feel packing that 130th jar.


Canned fruit. Picture courtesy of J. Sc.

Then, there are tomatoes. We have fewer tomato plants, but there will certainly be enough that some of them will need to be preserved. So far, the squash has produced in smaller quantities, but within a month or so, it’s likely there will be quite a lot of it as well.  And the corn…barring any groundhog or crow attacks, we are expecting somewhere between 800 and 1200 ears of corn.

All of this leaves out the grapes, blackberries, blueberries, and apples. There will be much smaller quantities of those to deal with, but we do want to try some jellies. The question is: how much can people who have other jobs and other responsibilities get done? The truth is, some of our harvest is likely to feed the birds, or will add nutrients to the soil as compost.

We’ll do what we can, of course, but we probably won’t get every bit of value from this year’s harvest. And that’s okay. There won’t be any guilt for not getting that last jar of beans canned, or making that last batch of chow chow. Instead, we will celebrate the achievements of the season. We’ll count our jars and feel a bubble of pride, and look at the stacks of bags in the freezer and know we did just fine this year.

It’s easy to let the responsibility of the garden become a burden. Avoiding vacations, spending every free moment either picking or processing the harvest, and worrying about what you aren’t getting done when you are doing anything other than garden related chores can suck the pleasure right out of your garden.

Do what you can and don’t sweat the rest. Very few of us are subsisting from our gardens, so it’s unlikely you will go hungry if you miss a few beans or a tomato hits the ground. Enjoy what you do harvest, and celebrate your garden!

Raspberry Jam

Raspberry jam. Picture courtesy of S. B.

Vertical Gardening: Up. Up. Up

There are lots of reasons to try vertical gardening. The most frequently mentioned is space, but even if you have plenty of room you might want to try it for aesthetic reasons. A vertical garden creates an attractive screen, a focal point similar to a painting on a wall, or shade.

Your imagination is the only limit when it comes to vertical gardening. One of the first times I encountered it was in reading Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. As the title suggests, space was the main concern in that book. Bartholomew lays out instructions for growing a number of vegetable garden crops vertically, including watermelon! He uses nets for the melons.

Some plants must be grown vertically for best results. Peas, cucumbers, some varieties of beans, and plenty of other vegetables — not to mention the many types of climbing roses —  require poles, stakes, or trellises. Our fence row is decorated with gorgeous (if invasive) morning glories every fall.

My own current efforts at vertical gardening include a grape arbor:

grape arborsome peas on an old cast iron gate (the pea plants are still tiny):

pea trellisand a structure for a sweet autumn clematis that appeared magically growing up a tree in my front yard last year (I haven’t moved the plant yet — just put together the structure):

clematis trellisBesides an indulgence of my unpredictable whims, all of these vertical structures are simply to provide interest in the garden. I worry about having too many plants that are roughly the same height — or the same color, or that bloom at the same time. (Sigh. The complications of haphazard gardening.)

Belle uses succulents in a really interesting vertical structure. The wooden structure creates a frame, and the succulents are a variety of color and texture. The whole thing looks like a work of art.

Regardless of how much space you have, you may want to try your hand at growing some plants up and up. The most important thing is to make sure your structure is sturdy enough to withstand the pull and tug of your plants. Before we built the grape arbor, our grape vines pulled down the flimsy gate they were growing on.