Farm report 2011

Yesterday Mr. Nake-id and I put the garden to bed for the winter. For the past few weeks, Mr. Nake-id has been diligently pulling spent tomatoe plants and harvesting fruit before the coming snows. We had a bumper crop of green tomatoes, huge misshappen chartruese heirlooms and bright-green, bullet-shaped Romas: Their likely future, the compost bin. Steadily, though they've been ripening, enough so we enjoyed a hearty spaghetti dinner Saturday night and Purple Cherokees dressed in balsamic vinaigrette, Sunday.

The greens have been clear winners, especially the kale, which continues to unfurl curly leaves in the aftermath of two snowstorms. Our second planting of arugula and spinach remains pert and cheerful, too, in spite of the fact that it's only delivered one or two salads to the table.

There were some mistakes: The tomatillo I planted, thinking it was a zebra-striped tomato. It threw off dozens of charming paper lanterns with tiny, walnut-sized tomatillos contained therein; this made for a bitter, acidic salsa.

The crook-necked yellow squash turned out to be this thick-skinned, warty thing, more ornamental than edible. We foisted these aggressively on friends and family.

And, we planted, too many tomatoes, easy to do in Colorado, where our growing season is so short and the chance of slurping down vine-ripened fruit is slim. So we hedge our bets with quantity, thinking it will boost yield and instead create too much shade. Fresh tomatoes will do that to a person; they make you greedy.

Exasperated with the tomato crop at some point during the summer, I decided the fault was our dirt. Friends and professional gardeners have lauded this lasagna method for amending soil. Unfortunately adding layers of mulch and compost and manure to our garden would necessitate the removal of existing earth from our rock-rimmed bed; the very thought exhausted me. Then we heard this piece on NPR.

Being loathe to rake anyway in the hope the leaves will blow away over the winter (they never do), this technique of breaking down leaves to augment a lawn, struck us as a great way to nurture the farm. While Nake-id IT took on the easy job--breaking up the ground with a pick ax--I raked up piles of leaves, then shredded them with the push mower, or more accurately, moved them around a bit with the push mower, a tool not particularly well-suited for shredding. Mr. Nake-id then worked a couple of big leaf piles into the farm. And we bid the farm goodnight until spring.

The nest pictured in this post was invented and woven by Stephanie, a pratitioner of the lasagna gardening method and a happy Colorado gardener who grew baskets of ripe tomatoes. She weaves these lovelies from the leavings of sewing projects on a knitting loom. I love how mine looks in the crab apple tree; it's a hopeful beckoning image that reminds me of the hope and commitment to the future I felt in caring for our future garden, a reminder that spring and fall are the gaudy transitions between intropsection and expectation, and that life goes on.

How did your garden grow?

From a tiny seed

Yesterday I read on the Internets (so take this with a grain of salt) that you can speed tomato ripening by pinching off new flowers. While this curtails additional fruit production, it apparently gives the plant the boost it needs to ripen fruit. Since the heirlooms have become the locus of my anger management strategy, I happily snapped off their pretty flowers.

"Take that, you Jolly Green Giant, you producer of tough, meconium-colored fruit." And that!"

Snap. "You bearer of baseballs, You grower of smug, organic relish. Come fall you'll be compost!" Snap.

Anyway, made me feel better.

Above, you'll see a plant in total compliance. It's impossible to capture the sheer size of this acorn squash, which now threatens to invade the front yard. It's producing perfect curcurbits at an impressive rate. This is a plant, which knows how to please.

We're dreaming of warm squash soups and satisfying purees, though there's nothing like a piping hot, butter-and-maple-syrup-baked squash with a splash of bourbon.

Except a warm-from-the-garden tomato freckled with pepper.

Farm Report: How green was my garden

Cherokee Purple Pole Tomatoes

Because this is Colorado, we spend the year eating California tomatoes that taste like wallpaper paste, wet, pink and mealy. So it is with great hope, anticipation and faith in the future that we plant tomatoes hoping to stack our sandwiches and punctuate our salads with the warm, salty taste of homegrown fruit.

We have enjoyed a blissful summer. Our neighborhood mercifully escaped the shredding hail that made coleslaw of my mother's roses and hammered farms and gardens across the Front Range. Mornings have been so temperate and cool that I don a sweatshirt most days to chase the morning chill. Rain has fallen regularly and like a benediction, fattening our yellow squash and prompting unprecented production from the usually recalcitrant basil plants.

But the tomatoes...our Roma's leaves have withered and yellowed as it squeezes out its sparse, small offerings. The slicers--finally--are trending a wan red. Tomatoes hang everywhere, like fat green moons, taunting us with their firm, verdant flesh.

The heirlooms are particularly egregious. All giant and viney and self-righteous, started as seeds by a neighbor, so ultra local and organic...and green!

Look at them. The Cherokee Purple Pole, Diener and Amy's Sugar Gem. They look like they're smiling, their round, olive faces mocking Mitch's efforts not to water too much or too little, to tether their wildness to stakes, allowing just that much new light to touch their shiny flanks.


Meanwhile, we wait.