By Sean Conway
Conifers add interest to a border of deciduous shrubs, particularly in winter.
Now that temperatures have cooled and the sight of school buses is once again the norm, there is no denying that the summer garden season is drawing to a close.
My garden is still yielding an abundance of produce, but warmth-loving plants such as eggplant, peppers and tomatoes have stopped putting forth new growth and instead are expending energy on their ripening fruit.
Each day, I have been picking overflowing baskets of ripe red, yellow and green-striped tomatoes, plump, dark purple eggplant, and a rainbow of colored peppers in varying shapes. Quite honestly, I'm ready for the plants to ease up. I have overdosed on all of them.
That's an all too common complaint among inveterate gardeners. And it's a reason to be thankful for the succession of fruits and vegetables that happens throughout the growing season.
In June, when strawberries are ripe, I eat them until I am tired of the taste. Midsummer signals the blueberry phase in my diet: blueberry pancakes, blueberry muffins, blueberries on cereal, ice cream and yogurt - not to mention blueberry tarts and blueberry pie.
Then come the tomatoes, my favorite things to gorge on. When they first come into season, I can't seem to get enough. I can eat them all day long. My favorite summer lunch is a bowl of tomatoes, lightly salted, drizzled with olive oil and tossed with a splash of sherry vinegar and a handful basil flowers. (In case you haven't tried them, basil flowers have even more concentrated basil flavor than the leaves, and they don't need chopping. They also mix into a salad more easily than chopped or shredded leaves.)
By late September, however, there are baskets full of perfectly ripe tomatoes sitting on the kitchen counter just waiting for me to cut them up and break out the olive oil. Unfortunately, my taste buds are ready for a break. I'm ready for more cool-season gardening.
Many gardeners hang up their hoes at the end of the warm season, perhaps unaware that their gardens have months of productivity left in them. Now is the perfect time to be planting cool-season crops. Lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, spinach, radishes and arugula all love the crisp fall weather as much as we do.
This past week, I planted four types of lettuce, two types of kale and seeded the first round of radishes. I happen to have a rather large garden; even if you don't, the advantage of cool crops like lettuce and spinach is that they take up less room in a garden than warm season crops.
Most cool-loving vegetables are ready to harvest rather quickly, and many are quite tolerant of very cool temperatures. Some spinach varieties, for instance, can even tolerate a light freeze, as can broccoli and kale.
You may have overdosed on tomatoes, peppers and zucchini and may be ready to walk away from your garden until next spring, but don't give up yet. Use the last of the tomatoes and peppers to make tomato sauce, and plant some cool season vegetables in their place. If you plant now, you can be harvesting fresh greens all through the fall. Like me, you will eat more salads than you thought possible, and by the end of fall tire of anything green and leafy. But by the dead of winter, you will be longing for the taste of something fresh picked, and you will be glad you did it when you had the chance.
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Copyright © Cultivating Life by Sean Conway. All rights reserved.