Thursday, September 11, 2008

Changes in the Weather

The weather has been sublime all week long. A little damp and dewy in the morning, perhaps, but otherwise verging on hot all day. But you can see the changes in the season coming: all the maples around here are developing red leaves at their topmost branches, while small bracts of red leaves twirl off the rowan each afternoon, one by one. And the scarlet runners look as though they are finally giving up the ghost, after churning out buckets of beans all summer. The pumpkins are turning a glorious deep orange, the acorn squash a glossy dark green, the last of the artichokes have been cut and consumed (parting is such sweet sorrow, tender artichoke), the tomatoes are all finally starting to ripen in earnest, and the basil - sigh - the basil. If you grow it you'll know what I mean. I only plant Genovese, and this year the plants are huge: lofty fragrant leaves nodding everywhere. I have a hedge of the stuff! But it's been a much later season than usual - we're most often just coming back from holidays in August when the garden is at its peak. This year the garden never really peaked. It had little spurts here and there, but nothing in concert. And the tomatoes are finally ripening now. Odd.

I have the best of intentions for my garden each year. Each year, I tell myself that I will make mental notes of which tomato plant went where, and how productive it was (or wasn't). I buy twine to string up pumpkins and squash so that I can make better use of vertical space. I buy stakes at end-of-season sales so I'll have them the following year when all my tomatoes are starting to sag under the weight of their fruit. And I always think "I'm going to do a winter garden this year." 

I was slightly more organized this year than last. At least I kept the tomato tags near each plant, even if they were almost immediately buried in piles of branches, soil, and strawberry trailers. And some of the tomatoes are a cinch to identify: Lemon Boy (big and yellow), Yellow Pear (pear shaped and yellow), Sungold Cherry Tomato (cherry tomato shaped and yellow), Roma (cylinder shaped paste tomato), Tigerella (gorgeous yellow and red stripes). Notice a theme? The rest are red and strangely alliterative: Bonne's Best, Big Boy, Better Boy

The Tigerellas are such heavy producers it'd be hard not to notice them. Each branch holds between six to twelve tomatoes, all of similar size and shape. Each plant holds about ten to twelve branches. And the plant itself grows straight up with little malformation. They stop everyone who walks by them, particularly since I stripped their leaves off (to hasten ripening) and almost to a person the same comment is made "Wow, look at those tomatoes!" The fruit is juicy without being drippy, and holds up well in terms of taste and meal potential: good for stuffing (we favour pesto or tarragoned goat cheese), sandwiches (sliced with cheddar and mint leaves), or roasted pasta sauces. 

The Sungold is our favourite in the cherry tomato department: sweet and tangy and each bite a perfect golden pop. We might change our minds when the Yellow Pear ripens, but it seems determined to come in on its own damn sweet time. I have a few heritage standard tomatoes but I'm not impressed with them, either in yield or taste. One (Old Tyme Tasty) has done nothing but produce twisted mutant lumps with bands of rough brown striping while the other (Russian Heritage) has struggled to produce anything at all.  I always hold out most hope for these weird heritage varieties, and the Tigerellas were the eye-wideningest surprise of all. 

I grew a number of hot chilies this year, because we like them, but they aren't easy to grow in this seacoast climate. They need a hot place out of the wind or they won't fruit well. This year I put them in my cold frame, in pots of compost, although next year they'll need larger pots, I think. I tried Mucho Natcho Jalapeno (not very hot, chintzy fruiter), Super Chili (hot and productive), and Long Red Slim (easily the best, heavy fruiter but really really hot). I cut up a Long Red Slim for dinner tonight, popped a small chunk in my mouth, and eventually had to resort to an ice cube to stop the burning on my lips - and I am no novice in the Eating Hot Food department. Afterwards I washed and washed and washed my hands, but as I was checking FDPG's mouth at bedtime for mysterious bleeding feelings (don't ask) she suddenly squawked "You didn't wash your hands very well, I have a burning sensation on my mouth - RIGHT HERE!" Then she favoured me with an ever so charming glare. So now I am mincing around, worried for my eyes, or my nose, or some other body part, worrying that I might forget in the night and scratch somewhere...

As for the fruit trees, the apple tree that I massacred last fall has done so well that I might very well do a repeat performance on it this fall. We've identified it too (why do I say "we" when I'm the only one gardening, I wonder?): it's a MacIntosh. I never liked MacIntosh as a kid so I was surprised to love this apple. It's sweet, tart, and crispy. The other existing tree on this property is a Granny Smith, and while I didn't quite scalp it, it too is covered with fruit. I'm going to have to give it a new look though; the former owner favoured a look known as The Pollard, which tends to produce a distressing amount of water shoots. I added a Summer Red, a Gravenstein, and a Cox's Orange Pippin to the mix. They are still young trees: the two that were here when we bought the place must be close to 60 years old.

The plum I put in last year is a multi-graft and two of the grafts fruited: the Victoria and the Stanley. The other - Opal - isn't doing much except for sprouting madly, so who knows where that will end up. The Victoria enchanted all of us. The plums were egg shaped, meltingly soft and plump and so sweet. The plum tree I put in this spring - a French plum - didn't fruit but looks good. The peach - a Frost peach - did really well, considering it looked like it was in a swamp for a few months there this spring. I seem to have an area of the garden that was either the septic field or just has inordinately clayey soil, because the drainage there is horrible. I dug a French drain in the end. Then I filled the French drain with pinecones, winecorks, and rocks, because the pipes I had intended to put in were beyond my budget (after I'd bought the peach, the pears, the blueberries, and the raspberries, ahem).

And now, what with the weather changing, I feel slightly all atwitter. I'm not ready for the season to end just yet. I want more days of hot weather, more garden time, more backyard-after-dinner swinging and racing around, more wanders on sunny beaches. I want to watch Toffee fly across the yard with the wind in his tail, and I want to watch the raspberries ripen just a bit more. But the kids are champing at the bit for new trails to follow in their school work. FDPG has French, Japanese, and Latin planned for her fall itinerary, in between all her reading, Max has gladdened all our hearts by developing an impressively positive responsibility towards his math, and Dominic's reading has suddenly taken off (thank you, O great God of ExplodetheCode!). 

I always feel like this at the end of summer. Funny, really. 


Heather said...

Love this post, Shelia. I so enjoy hearing the details of others' gardens. I thought perhaps you were reading my mind when I read this bit that you wrote -

I have the best of intentions for my garden each year. Each year, I tell myself that I will make mental notes of which tomato plant went where, and how productive it was (or wasn't). I buy twine to string up pumpkins and squash so that I can make better use of vertical space. I buy stakes at end-of-season sales so I'll have them the following year when all my tomatoes are starting to sag under the weight of their fruit. And I always think "I'm going to do a winter garden this year."

So now I wonder if most every gardener thinks and does that?? I would add to that that I always think "And I am going to plant my garlic in October this year...for sure." But I still never have. This year though...for sure! :-)

So with those stuffed tomatoes - do you fill them with cheese and pesto and then broil them in the oven for a bit or eat them raw? They sound yummy. Glad to hear your Mac tree has won you over, mine is my favourite of our apple trees. I love that they are delicious for fresh eating but also make such a good cooking apple.

sheila said...

The garlic! I forgot about the garlic! OMG. ha ha ha, I am SUCH a wit, aren't I. I guess I need to add THAT to my list too, because I've tended to plant garlic in May. Not great timing.

Everyone I know who gardens always has better intentions for the following year, all except for my parents' friends, an old couple in their early 90's. They have it down pat now. And they have, bar none, the most excellent garden. It's amazing.

Sometimes we broil the tomatoes, sometimes not. The pesto/goat cheese combo is also really great on artichoke hearts. I officially heart artichokes now. I have 4 plants and I need more!

Nicola said...

Mmm, your description of those tigerella tomatoes had my mouth watering. I love this time of year...the starlings are flocking, I can hear their racket in the trees around our house, then suddenly they all go quiet and fly off en masse!

sheila said...

I was thinking of you today, Nicola, as I stuffed some of those Tigerellas. They aren't the world's best tasting tomato, but they are so incredibly productive and they do taste pretty good, so I'm saving seeds. Maybe I can send you some?

Kris B said...

Good choice on the Gravenstein. Best. Apple. Ever. I grew up on an apple farm, and the Gravs were the first apple ripe, and the best for making pies, sauce, and juice. Not to mention eating out of hand. Spicy, tart, Mmmm. FWIW, my dad the farmer always says that you only need to "injure" the tree when you prune it; that will help it to come back stronger. I've found that the years after I do a harsh pruning, the fruit is slight, but the next year? Bumper crop!

Next year try my favorite (striped) tomato: Green Zebra.