Friday, October 24, 2008

October Garden

All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today. - Chinese Proverb

I’m particularly fond of the dishevelment of the October garden, although I confess my garden is always somewhat disheveled. In October, activity has slowed enough to allow reflection on the waning remnants of the summer crops and to invite anticipation of the planting season soon to arrive. The verdant abundance confirms what a good year it’s been. Even so, I can’t help but contemplate an even better next year.

Looking around this October garden I think of the planting to be done – NOW. I want to get plenty of garlic started, and I have daffodil and crocus bulbs to tuck into some open spaces here and there.

A couple of days ago, I harvested sweet potatoes. Back in mid-summer, I set out nine Beauregard slips on the keyhole garden near my front door. I knew I’d enjoy the foliage of the vines, even if the sweet potatoes didn’t produce much. But they produced quite generously with some really big potatoes and lots of small ones. These Beauregards have a red skin and a smooth textured flesh. I grew them once, a long time ago, and intend to grow some again next year, starting them earlier so they’ll have more time to fill out before the first frost.

Bell peppers are still hanging around, escaping the frosts of recent chilly nights. The bells this year were dark purple, almost black, and eventually turned red if they stayed on the plant long enough. Next year, I want to track down "Lipstick" bell peppers, another favorite from years past. The name is a fitting description of their color and they’re undoubtedly the sweetest bell peppers I’ve ever tasted.

Broccoli is ready and the other fall greens are doing well. Early on, the cabbage worms had a hey-day with the Cruciferae family, but one treatment of Dipel (Bacillus thuringiensis) was enough to send them on their way. The big question now: will the cabbages have time to mature before winter sets in? It’s too close to call at this point. I have red cabbage, the crinkled Savoy cabbage, and two varieties of green cabbage. By this time next month, I should be able to say which one fares the best with freezing temperatures.

The big bed of kale and tendergreen and turnip is thriving, five feet wide and 75’ long. It’s time to start bagging turnip greens and knocking on my neighbors’ doors. "Knock, knock, it’s your crazy neighbor from down the road. Hello, hello, is anybody home? Got greens? Want greens?"

Somewhere under the sea of green that rolls across the untidy October garden, the roots of the purple-top turnips should be approaching a good size for salads and for cooking. I still have potatoes to dig. The 90-year-old apple trees are loaded with enough Green Pippins to keep me busy for the next couple of weeks baking pies and drying fruit. I’ve already stockpiled enough black walnuts to spend hours and hours cracking them out later this winter.

The providence of this place amazes me. Sometimes, though, when I tally up the tradeoffs required to continue with this hermitic devotion to the soil, I wonder if I’m paying too high a price for these vegetables. And though I can find plenty of reasons to doubt the choices that have brought me to this October dishevelment, I always find as many reasons to persist.

Maybe it’s enough to have faith in the promise of all the flowers of all the tomorrows. Maybe it’s enough to cast the seeds of today to the wind and the water and the earth.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost, 1916

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