Guest post by Kurt Jacobson
On my morning dog walk the grass was frosted silver from last night’s cold temperature. The parsley and other herbs seemed to hang on through the punishing cold but soon they too will succumb to a wintry death. So goes the seasons in a gardener’s life. The Caribbean Red Habanero gifted me with 24 orbs of hot-as-hell goodness before saying farewell. It was the star of the pepper show this year and even though it was late to the party it produced over fifty bright red peppers for my hot sauce making machine.
Soon I’ll rip out the withered remains of my summer crops and let the soil rest until February or March and then start digging it all up again, blending in compost for a new start. Until then I have home canned salsa, diced tomatoes and red habanero hot sauce to remind me of the fruits of the garden. It was a great year that saw my best green bean crop ever. Somehow even though I planted two dozen bush bean starts at the same time; they were staggered two weeks apart in maturing. That gave me over five weeks of good bean picking and eating. I don’t know why they grew at different times as they were only ten feet apart but I’d rather be lucky than good.
My zucchini and yellow squash did the best ever of the four years I’ve been gardening in Maryland. It could be due to the weather or due to the mushroom compost I lovingly blended into my raised garden beds? Either way as a no-spray, organic gardener I was thrilled to get several nice squash before the vine borers got the best of them in August. Okra did the same for me this year as in past years by producing enough for 1-2 okra dishes each week from late June through September.
Late summer plantings of arugula, beets, carrots and herbs had mixed results. The arugula did fantastic; while the beets did nothing more than raised their little heads then drooped. The carrots are still growing but when the killing frost comes I’ll pull the little orange spears and relish the last fresh carrots of the year. It will soon be time to clip the thyme and set it about the house drying for my herb cabinet. As a chef, there is nothing like cooking with my own home-grown herbs to add that special taste to soups, sauces, roasts and stews.
In many ways it was the most memorable of my four years of backyard veggie gardening. I had a neighborhood eleven year old boy take an interest in veggie gardening and loved teaching him what I know of growing your own. I gifted him one of my five raised beds and gave him about ten seed packages to choose from to plant. He chose three types of tomatoes, two types of lima beans and Italian parsley. He would come over every week or so in the beginning and we would work the whole garden together. I called him when the seedlings came up and he rushed over to see this new life he had planted.
When we started harvesting I’d send him home each week with a basket of greens in June, and tomatoes, beans, and herbs throughout the summer. I didn’t see him much after school let out, just once every three weeks, but he was always happy to help and loved carrying home fresh produce from our garden. It wasn’t until a party at his house yesterday that I heard from his parents and grandparents how much my garden project changed him. They said he talked about our gardening often and started eating many more types of food never tried before this new gardening education. The big surprise was he liked all these new veggies and ate them with pleasure. It was good to hear just how positive this joint gardening project was for him and we made plans to go over my seed catalogs in December to design his plot for next year.
The other most memorable event of my summer gardening was the arrival of a Yellow Agriope spider. I was picking Sungold Tomatoes one morning and found myself staring at a big spider just inches from my face. I have never been fond of spiders but have a truce with them. If they don’t land, or crawl on me I let them be. With this particular visitor I sent a question for the UMD experts as to what it was and was it good for my garden. That was when I found out what type of spider it was and that it would be good for my garden. For days I would be extra careful not to disturb it when I picked the Sungolds, and even took such a liking to it that I started catching and tossing bugs into her web. It was great fun to watch her attack the bugs and spin a cocoon around them for a stored meal. I was sad when I came back from a trip in early September and she was gone. I suspect my neighbor who is allergic to bees and hates bugs in general killed the Agriope while watering my garden in my absence. Or maybe a bird got her? Either way it was a great experience and I believe she protected my garden well for the two months she was there.
As winter approaches I hope you all have fun planning your gardens for 2016 and don’t get too carried away with seed ordering this snowy season ahead of us. May we all have the best gardens ever next year and an early spring!