Monday, November 1, 2010

Old Season, New Life

Snow is in the forecast for Friday, and after a six-week hiatus from gardening and writing, I face today the mountain of chores long overdue for my ragged, late-fall garden. I spent virtually the entire autumn in the low-energy state of early pregnancy -- napping, cooking just enough for family needs and generally guarding against any extra expenditure of effort. Now, at four months along, my energy is back, together with a mountain of gardener's guilt: all the tomatoes and green beans unpicked! The pounds of grapes left to the birds! The basil frost-bitten and unworthy of a few last batches of pesto!

And how lucky, indeed, that this life of gardening, cooking and preservation is more hobby than necessity. I shudder to imagine how many indigenous and settler women living in this area two hundred and fifty years ago had to shoulder weeks of food-gathering in a state of fatigue and discomfort, lest their families be left hungry in the snowy season. My family will have a few less pesto dinners and jars of grape jam over the winter, but overall will remain generally unaffected by my period of retreat from daily chores. The garden looks visibly worse for the wear, but it is nothing that a few afternoons of elbow grease can't fix.

Among the mess of overgrown plants and weeds, I found fall crops thriving from neglect -- Swiss chard, mustard and kale are all leafing out beautifully -- a few leaves of ruby red chard are pictured above. The radishes -- daikon and black Spanish -- are big and juicy, ready to be pulled and stored for winter.

I am thinking hard about next year's garden -- the 2011 seed catalogs haven't even hit the mailbox, but the planning needs to start now. The birth of my next child coincides with the last frost date -- a spring garden, beyond some lettuce and radishes, seems out of reach. The early summer, too, will probably be a wash, given all the energy a new baby requires. I have gathered several shallot and garlic varieties to plant this week. Normally, I am loathe to dedicate too much precious garden space to these crops -- they hog the beds at a time of high use -- spring and early summer. But next year they can grow undisturbed as my family expands.