Weather has a profound effect on gardening. Winds can flatten a field of crops, hail can pummel plants into bits, and drought causes fruit to wither on the vine. But the single most frantic day for gardeners driven by weather, is the day leading into an evening where a freeze has been predicted.
Today was that day. But the morning and early afternoon weather did not even hint at what awaited. Blue skies and warm temperatures tried to lull me into relaxing or even just slowing down. With such a wonderful day on tap, what possibly could change? Even the trees still had their leaves and the grass was just as lush as it had ever been. I had seen the forecasts, checking multiple sources. I knew what was on the horizon.
Now while it would be easy just to shrug my shoulders and walk away from the gardens, leaving produce to freeze, I just couldn’t do it. The tomato plants were just loaded with fruit. Eggplants were tipping over under the weight of the smooth skinned aubergines. Herbs were thick and fragrant. Nope. I had to harvest.
Armed with a pair of kitchen shears, I set about marathon task of harvesting. Even unripe fruit was going into my basket. Green tomatoes would be turned into fried delights or mock apple pie. If there were enough, perhaps a batch of green tomato wine? All of the herbs would season countless soups, stews, sauces, and roasted vegetables. Leaving them behind would be like throwing money out of a window.
Working through rows of plants, the final harvest had begun. Bright red, ripe fruit was easy to spot. Mature items went into separate boxes and baskets. They would be used first, providing still-summer fresh flavors in upcoming meals. Unripe items would be used as is. The firm texture of a green tomato holds up well to frying. Mock apple pie with green tomatoes is also good (be sure not to use tomatoes that have not reached the ‘breaker‘ stage. You must use a green tomato that is apple firm, has no gel, and has not yet developed a tomato flavor. The seasonings used in the pie will transform the tomato.
A final harvest is a time consuming task. Hunting for items amongst the thick leaves and vines is not easy. Prepare to spend time on your hands and knees, crawling between plants. It will be easier to spot the low hanging fruit. Take a box, bag, or basket with you. This prevents numerous trips back to the end of the row. As you harvest, decisions must be made. Are green tomatoes the size of marbles worth the effort? What about green cayenne peppers? How about that eggplant just starting to show color? And just how much parsley should be harvested? Is two or three bags enough? Should the winter squash stay on the vine? What can survive 32F degree temperatures? Where will it all go?
Finally, the last has been gathered. With a stiff back and sore hands, I can put down the shears. In total, there are twelve bags, four boxes, and three baskets of produce. Yes, what has been salvaged represents hundreds of dollars of food. For a family on a budget, this is welcomed bounty.
The final harvest is a bittersweet moment. It is the end of the season. No more weeding. No more bug patrol. No more worries about the weather damaging the crops. But it also means that I will no longer step out into the garden and get inspired for dinner. No more aroma of herbs wafting in through the patio door. No more trading fresh produce with friends. Yes, it will be nice to rest after a long day of work, but l I will miss gardening. Until next season my friend.
I need fall and winter to lull away the aches and pains from my muscles. Then come January when the bright, shiny seed catalogs arrive, I will once again be seduced by the descriptions and the possibilities.