By Kevin Wright
The sun is just creeping over the horizon as I step outside. Steam rises from the hot cup of coffee in my hand. I slowly make my way to the garden. Underfoot, the grass gives a gentle “crunch” with each step. There is frost on the ground this morning. I sip my coffee and realize that the summer is indeed coming to an end. The full, lush garden has dwindled slowly over the last few weeks, and this morning’s frost will make it seem even emptier. Despite the lonely feeling that the growing season is almost over, I am happy with this year’s harvest. It has been a good season here in central Illinois.
If there is anything I am most proud of this year, it would have to be the tomatoes. What a growing season. In fact, it was so good that I thought the season would be short but oh so sweet. The tomatoes seemed to come on all at the same time, which led to several hours of picking and the neglecting of other plants. In one stretch, three days of picking led to 1,000 lbs. of tomatoes! But where are the new flower heads? Will there be any late summer or early fall tomatoes?
A stretch of heat and drought began to put worry in my heart about the tomatoes. A little dry weather and heat are good for the tomatoes, but for an extended time? A full day was spent putting in an irrigation system to get water to the plants. A trial run with the system showed it was working correctly. But during that trial run clouds began to build in the sky. I opted not to put the irrigation system to work at that point. That night over an inch of rain fell. And that is exactly how the summer went. The rains came at just the right time. Just when you thought it was just about time to get the system going a healthy rain would fall, and the tomatoes, along with the other plants, loved it.
Mid-summer showed little signs of a late summer tomatoes crop but then something happened. I began to see small green tomatoes and the heat came back in late September and early October. Another decent crop of tomatoes came forth in October.
The green beans were never ending this season. But to my dismay the beans were not a big hit at the markets. Plenty were sold but a 200′ row produced more than enough. The 50′ row of pole beans were so full that I believe that would have been all I would have needed for the markets. Are people tired of beans?
Another big growing hit this season were muskmelons. But there must come good with bad. They grew so well that many were over-ripe. You check one day and you think they are a day away from picking and then when you do check the next day they are too ripe. But plenty were sold and boy were they good.
Early in the season I did have a battle with rabbits. They took off the tops of a number of pepper and tomato plants, even digging many of them up. I worked at getting some cans and other protective cover around the plants and after doing so the plants came back. I did have to replace a number of plants early on but time was on my side. Sweet banana peppers, habaneras and an assortment of hot peppers grow very well. Of these peppers the sweet banana peppers were the most popular with customers. Habaneras in fact sold very little and will only get a few plantings next season.
Green peppers grew with reckless abandon. Green peppers deserve all the space you can give them. They last all season and are very popular. Some vegetables have early appeal but diminish as the season wears on. Not the green pepper however, it remains popular until frost takes the last remaining one.
The 100′ row of eggplant produced more than enough. But I still wonder just how popular or unpopular this species is. Nestled in a bed of straw mulch the eggplants were dark and shiny, the Asian species long and a vibrant purple. Just a few short days ago the last eggplant was picked.
Now I look at the garden and it seems bare. Leeks and carrots are still thriving. The greens, planted as fall crops, are growing well. The frost will take its toll on the last of the the remaining crops. Many beds that were so full a month or so ago have been planted with cover crops. The frost now will take down the buckwheat in some of the beds, the oats are still green.
I ponder next season already. What will it bring? How good will the markets be? But I have all winter to think about that. I still have some work to do here, to get ready for next season.
I take another sip of coffee and watch as the sun reaches out and touches the tips of the trees. They are golden yellow, some a vibrant red. I shiver a bit as the morning air creeps into my body. I tie up my boots and grab my tools….there is work to be done!