October 7, 2019

First Frost

Early Saturday morning, probably about 4 a.m., a layer of cold air settled over the one-time farm field that is the home of Medfield’s community garden.  Elsewhere in town, the cold air slipped down hillsides or was chased away by roads that retained warmth.  But, in the valley (‘good bottom land’ in farming parlance) along the country road on the south side of town, the air – probably no colder than 30 degrees – found a pocket where it could stay, unmolested, for a few hours.
That’s all it took to send an irrevocable eviction notice to our vegetable garden.  Water freezes at 32 degrees and most vegetables are little more than columns of water surrounded by thin membranes.  By the time we got to the garden, the zucchini leaves were limp and oily. Green tomatoes had dropped to the ground.  Our glorious crop of basil – our best in years – was tinged with black.  Gone, all gone.
We had already harvested
our winter squash
We had already harvested our winter squash.  Had we not, it would have been reduced to un-salvageable mush.  A few crops are light-frost hardy: the arugula, carrots, and chard will withstand temperatures down into the mid-twenties for a few hours without suffering damage.
But there is no doubt that the summer gardening season is at an end.  Yeah, the beets will get a little bigger, and we’re promised temperatures in the mid-70s early this week, but we’re down to 11 ½ hours of sunlight, and the sun’s angle is such that ‘practical’ daylight is two hours less. 
The fat lady has sung.  Start carving the pumpkins.
Frozen marigolds
It was a glorious year for gardening – though, like all years, one also filled with frustration.  It took forever for our first crops to germinate (it seemed never to stop raining in April and the temperature remained stubbornly in the 40's).  The bean beetles arrived on schedule in mid-July and halved our crop of green beans.  Someone in the garden – either thoughtless or trying to save money – purchased tomatoes infected with the fungus Phytophthora from a Big Box store, and late blight rampaged through everyone’s garden, including ours. (And no, late blight isn’t inevitable.  Three tomato plants in our as-yet-frost-free home garden are still producing fruit.)
The successes far outnumbered the failures.  Betty and I have attempted to grow fennel for years with nothing to show for it but inedible ferns.  This year, every fennel plant thrived and we feasted on it from early August on (there is some in the refrigerator).  Our three squares of corn produced their last, delicious ears just last week; and we even were able to strip, cut and flash freeze the kernels of several ears during peak production days.
A coating of frost on our
'good bottom land'
And, for the first time in a decade, there will be winter squash and even sweet potatoes for the late fall and winter.  We encouraged butternut squash vines to grow beyond their allotted space and colonize the void created as rows of corn were pulled.  The result was 20 large squash that have been cleaned, dipped in a diluted bleach solution, and sequestered in a dark corner of the basement.  A gardening neighbor gave Betty two surplus sweet potato ‘slips’ which we planted in an abandoned plot.  This morning, with another gardener who will share in the bounty, we harvested an impressive number of fat yams.  They’ll be edible in about a month as they sit quietly in the basement converting starch to sugar.
The final cleanup
We will harvest a few more crops over the balance of the month.  A row of leeks came through the frost unscathed, as did our carrots, arugula and chard.  But there’s little to do but cart away out the spent vines and, ultimately, take down the fence. 
We’ll enjoy the fruits (well, the vegetables) of our labor well into the future. Betty put up hot pepper jelly and froze peas, corn and green beans.  We have enough of those crops to last well into the winter.  It’s the squash, though, that is scary.  At one squash per week (they’re that big), we’ll be eating the last of our 2019 crop when we harvest our first spinach next April.  That’s what I call continuity.