August 4, 2009

August: The Payoff Month

I was in our vegetable garden this afternoon picking green beans and noticed that the corn, now chest high, is starting to tassel out. Next to the green beans are harvest-size heads of cabbage and beets pushing themselves out of the ground. This evening, even after lavishing them on our salads, there are roughly twenty unused tomatoes on the kitchen counter.

In the garden immediately in front of our home, there is a riot of color and texture as white balloon flowers, golden heliopsis, lavender stokesia, yellow coreopsis, pale blue hydrangea, rust-colored blackberry lilies and a dozen other perennials compete for the attention of bees and butterflies. In another bed, rudbeckia crowds against solidago and fragrant Orienpet lilies, while red and purple monarda stake claims to the morning sun.

August is the month of excess. It is too much, really. Too many flowers all at once, too much lettuce that will not save and chard that will grow bitter before it is eaten. Our town’s food cupboard distributes twice this month. We will share the excess with the less fortunate but, even after turning over bags overflowing with produce, there will still be too much by next week.

This year’s bounty is less plentiful for certain vegetables. Last year, our bumper crop of zucchini forced us, at one point, to take several bags of it to our town’s transfer station – not to throw it away, but to leave it in the ‘swap meet’ area in hopes someone would say ‘yum, zucchini!’ Last year, we put up dozens of bags of frozen green beans, consuming the last of them just as this year’s crop began to mature.

Our eight varieties of tomatoes, many of them heirloom, began ripening in mid July. Now, three varieties are in full swing and a fourth will soon join them. My fear is that this year, despite planting squares three weeks apart, all our corn will ripen at once. Those chest-high plants mean we are, at most, three weeks away from ripe ears. Once it starts, we will be inundated with more corn than we can possibly eat.

Corn, in turn, may be the most satisfying of crops because it is one where there is a night-and-day difference between what appears in supermarkets and what comes from your own garden. Corn sugar starts turning to starch as soon as it is harvested. Two days after being picked, it is essentially tasteless. A local farm stand sells sweet corn that is hours from the field. Last year, because of the dry summer, it was a dollar an ear. We will definitely get our money’s worth… but how many ears of corn a day can two people eat? Some will be given away and some will be frozen in hopes of reliving a bit of August when winter sets in.

Finally, there are the ‘winter’ crops – winter squash, principally, but some other gourds as well. The vines are still relatively small – a product of too much rainfall and too little sun. I have confidence, though. Two weeks of heat will cause them to spill out past the garden fence into the fields beyond. Last September, we picked dozens of huge Butternut squash that filled several wheelbarrows. Stored in our cool, dry basement, they were a tasty reminder of summer for many months. I confess, though, that I cheered when we ate the last one in April.

All this bounty will all be over too soon. The New England gardening season is effectively over shortly after Labor Day because, here at 45 degrees north latitude, the daylight starts to shrink at an alarming rate and frosts appear with impunity.

So, I am enjoying this excess of August, the payoff month for gardeners. Flowers fill vases around the house bringing the beauty of the outdoors into out home and brightening our evenings. Meals are built around produce so fresh that, as I joke, it thinks it is still growing. I know it will be over too soon. That’s why I’m relishing it so much right now.

No comments:

Post a Comment