Published in the Toronto Star October 1, 2016
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” ~G.K. Chesterton
Thanksgiving Day is 10 days away. What are you going to give thanks for? Many readers need only look out their back window at their bounty of a veggie harvest to realise that we are indeed very fortunate people.
The long, hot and dry summer was just what the doctor ordered for heat seeking veggies like tomatoes, peppers, squash, and beans. Maybe not so much for cool-crops like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, but the world does not need any more of them anyway (in my opinion). People like me can enjoy this year’s crop of carrots and tomatoes: the gardening equivalent of having your cake and eating it too.
The caveat is that your late-season vegetable crop is still reliant on your attention in order to produce at its best. Remember that a plant generally produces more ‘fruit’ when ripe fruit is removed.
Reflect with me on the very idea of a fruiting plant: why, do you suppose, does a zucchini produce zucchinis with such gusto? The answer is, ‘to feed the seeds’. You say, ‘what?’. Yes. I hate to break it to you but the squash on your vine were never designed for you, but for the reproductive rhythm of life. Squash life. Squash plants, just like humans, have an urge to reproduce. It is another basic tenant of life. Mosquitoes and small mouth bass have it. Everything that lives has it.
So, when you pick a small, edible zucchini (vs. one that is large and fat, with no taste and more heft than a sledge hammer) you are sending a message to the squash mother plant: make some more. Mother plant produces blossoms, which attract bees and other pollinators and the fruit is once again set so that a new zucchini is hatched for you to enjoy before it explodes out of its skin. Even if your veggie plants have run out of time to bloom and set edible fruit, the simple act of removing what is there now encourages the plant to concentrate it’s energy in the growth of smaller existing fruit.
If it is fruit bearing it will continue to please you in this way but only if you continue to pick while ripe. This does not work for carrots or beets or turnips. You pull one and you don’t get a new one in its place. It would really surprise me if you need to have this little detail explained. But, I never know and I assume nothing as I live by the mantra, ‘there is never a stupid question’.
Here is a crop that is completely counter-intuitive. You plant them now, in the fall, as a bulb. They grow a bit before the hard frost of late autumn and more in the spring. Come July, they produce a pig-tail ‘scape’ with a flower bud on the end of it. If you cut the scapes before they bloom you can eat them or sell them for profit. I see them at the St. Lawrence Market, $3 for 5.
Mid-August, you dig up your garlic, lay it in the sun for a few days and then in a well ventilated place for a few weeks. If you did this in August, you now have ‘fresh’ garlic, ready for use. Braid it, sell it, consume it, give it away and hang on to some of it to plant in your garden now.
If you don’t have any garlic of your own to plant, you can pick some up at a garden retailer. They are generally displayed with the Holland bulbs. Or go to the local Farmers Market and pick up the locally grown stuff. Better still.
Cold Frame Heaven
If you are the least bit ambitious I recommend that you build a cold frame to extend the harvest time of many of your favourite veggies.
A cold frame is really a ‘warm frame’ as it sequesters solar energy as a greenhouse does, but in smaller space. As the ground under your cold frame absorbs heat during the day, it radiates warmth through the evening. This creates the perfect environment for sowing some mesclun mix, leaf lettuce, kale, Swiss chard or anything that produces an edible leaf. And radishes. Nothing grows to maturity faster than radishes.
One last tip regarding edibles. This is a great time of year to plant winter hardy fruiting trees and berry bushes. Browse through your local retailer and look for suitable specimens of apple, plum, cherry and pear trees or any berry bush that you can name. You will not find the same selection now as you will come spring but this is a better time to plant and you just might find some end-of-season bargains. Thank goodness, indeed.