Greenpoint: Garden chat time, then garden bedtime

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PHOTOGRAPHER:

Last week an almost neighbor delivered the remains of his garden to our house.

It’s a tradition that started when we had oxen. A few friends with gardens would bring us their cornstalks and other spent plants at the end of the growing season. We don’t have voracious oxen anymore, but the goats are happy to eat corn plants, bean plants, beet greens — most anything rough and leafy. Anything we can’t feed them, anything in the cabbage family or anything rotting, we feed to our compost pile.

I think the delivery is mostly a chance for the gardener to stop over and chat with my husband, an annual visit that starts with garden production and animal welfare, and branches out to local and global affairs. This time we also got a bag of frying peppers, and our gardening friend got a promise of cheese when the goats are back in milk.

It’s garden chat season, when vegetable growers are pulling up plants, adding row cover to prolong the season, turning in compost or planting winter cover crops. And sharing the rundown of their seasons with anyone who gets what they’re talking about — what grew well, new favorite varieties, what we wished we’d planted more of, what failed.

My nephew in the high desert country of Oregon, east of the Cascades, just put row covers on his garden beds against nighttime temperatures that are already dropping into the 30s. He and his wife built their first raised bed on a cement pad on the side of their house when they moved in around three years ago. They’ve added new beds every year and now they have gardens all around the house, and a sort of side-of-the-shed greenhouse for heat-loving plants.

With a new baby in the house, he found he didn’t have time to water every night. They switched to drip hoses this year and found it helpful in their climate, where the issue isn’t just the lack of rainfall but the dryness of the air. It’s taken a few years to learn to grow in that environment, and the next lesson is not overplanting their beds. “I guess we’re learning less is more,” he said.

This year was excellent for peppers, my nephew reported, and not too bad for tomatoes.

Our tomatoes didn’t do too well this year. I don’t know if it was the wild weather swings — from too dry to too wet — or the fact that they all ended up sprawling on the ground instead of staying on their supports. They weren’t ripening fast enough, and I picked most of them green to ripen in boxes indoors.

Like my nephew, we had a good pepper season, although my husband will say we could have done with more sweet and fewer hot peppers. The deer got into the chard and kale early on, but it all came back again and will keep producing until frost. We lost zucchini plants in the heavy rains, but planted a couple more in July that are still bearing now. The yellow summer squash never stopped producing and are still coming in strong.

I think the carrots were affected by the long dry spell. They are abundant but not very sweet. I’ve been roasting them, which improves the flavor. This time of year I’m roasting everything — cauliflower, fennel, carrots, onions, broccoli — all together on a baking sheet, and putting them in bags in the freezer for the winter.

Our winter squashes are piling up by the front door, along with baskets of potatoes, which also did very well this year. We seem to have eaten almost all of the onions we thought we were planting for winter storage, and had to pick up a bag from a farm stand.

Soon enough we’ll be planting garlic and putting the gardens to bed for the winter.

And talking with our garden friends about what we want to grow next year.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Oct. 24. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: Life and Arts

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