Archive for November 3rd, 2021

Fall Renewal

 

It’s been an unusual growing season at my place, with the strangeness in the larger world reflected in strange events that affected my gardening. First, a hard freeze two weeks later than I have ever had at my property before. Then after things were replanted, a heavy hailstorm in late spring that tore all the vegetable plants to tatters, shredded the tree leaves, and knocked little green fruit off the fruit trees. Then lots of clean-up and a new round of replanting. Then, about five weeks later, an even worse hailstorm. This one had hailstones an inch in diameter, and was followed by flooding rains. Replanting was a real issue this time, because there were lots of supply problems and many seed companies were out of the seeds that I wanted.


All this was followed by the hottest driest summer that I have experienced, so hot that I couldn’t water enough to keep things growing and no amount of mulch kept plants from desiccating. Broccoli and sugar peas and all my other favorite early-summer crops were lost completely. And in late summer when the fruit, even though scarred and pockmarked by hail, did start to ripen, squirrels moved in. These were intense, driven squirrels, with the focus and aggression of shoppers trying to score the last pack of toilet paper. My European plum tree was loaded with fruit and one day I tasted one and decided that they were almost ready to pick and I would start picking the next day. By 9 o’clock the next morning, there were exactly 5 plums left on the tree. I have never seen anything like it. I think that the squirrels were running a wholesale operation somewhere. If I knew where, I would’ve bought my own fruit back rather than lose it all, but that did not seem to be an option. I did get a few peaches and apples, and they left the quince tree strictly alone, but everything else was gone.

Sometimes I think really hard about moving to a more garden friendly climate zone, but then October comes. October in New Mexico would make a convert out of anybody. Long walks along the acequias in cool crisp air under the gold cottonwoods make me intensely grateful for where I am, and we get gorgeous sunsets year round but especially in fall.

So I gave up my musings about moving and started thinking about what did work this year.

The bramble fruits were a loss but the small fruit like elderberries and pie cherries bore abundantly, so I made lots of crisps and fermented lots of wine. The perennial greens like nettles and scorzonera were unfazed, and the collards lost all their leaves to hail but grew a new crop despite the heat. Mulberries bore beautifully all over town. Fennel’s threadlike leaves just giggled at the hail. Butternut and Tahitian melon squash   lost their leaves to hail but kept growing, and by the end of the season some 30foot vines had climbed the apple trees and large squash hung among the apples. I picked some immature ones to use as summer squash.  Potatoes held onto enough foliage to grow a beautiful crop of tubers.
I also learned some things. In the southwest, if you want to have dandelions you have to water them. All but three of my cherished dandelion plants died because I had underestimated their water needs. This is good information for next year. The local edible weeds like lambsquarters and amaranth are adapted to our seasons, so if you just give them a reasonably fertile piece of ground, water some, and don’t disturb them, you will get a good greens crop and can put enough in the freezer for winter. Always order more seeds of your favorite varieties than you think you need, in case you have to replant once or even twice. Be prepared to be flexible about what you eat. When a really bad season comes along be glad of what it does produce, because it could be worse and may yet be. If you eat meat, please seek out and support your local farmers.

Do less of what doesn’t work and more of what works, and plan your meals for the conditions you’re in and not the conditions you wish prevailed. Right now, the three surviving dandelions have grown to a huge size, and with a few late sprigs of lambsquarters and some Berkshire bacon from the freezer, they’ll make a delicious meal.