Two years ago, in February, the Seed Savers Exchange catalogue arrived through the mail slot with a chilly breeze behind it. In the manner of winter-withered people, my mother and I flipped through it, soaking up the brightly colored, juicy-looking photographs of peppers and melons and hundreds of kinds of tomatoes.
Long story short, we decided that we’d finally get around to building the raised beds we’d always wanted. We ordered something like $60 worth of seeds. We built the beds. It was time consuming and expensive, and we froze our hands hammering and drilling in the garage all through March. My mother told me I had better write a book about it, because we needed to recoup our investment (a mere harvest of vegetables was not enough to do this, apparently).
I never did. I wanted to keep a blog, but hadn’t, I thought, started early enough in the process of creating the garden. And then time passed, and I still didn’t write about it, and I thought if I had a blog it had better be about writing, rather than vegetables.
But I was out today pulling dead corn stalks and tearing apart old melon vines and doing autumn maintenance like weed pulling and fertilizing–healing the soil, as some organic farmers of my recent acquaintance would say–I realized I wanted to write about the experience.
So, taking inspiration from E.G. Cosh’s post about Pride in Brighton, and the sage wisdom that writers should actually, y’know, write about stuff that happens to them, I present to you The Autumn Garden Clean Up Post. With pictures.
When I went out, around noon, it was still cool. As is the way with September in Ohio, it got hot, but dry, so that working felt like work, and not like gasping in a sauna. The leaves of the swiss chard squeaked against each other, rubbery and cool. There was a cucumber vine hidden beneath them, where it had been avoiding detection all summer. The tiny Sour Gherkins were pale and crisp and I ate them as I worked, hauling out great handfuls of grass and weeds from amidst the salsify. When I put my hand down on the basil, the bruised leaves smelled like licorice and dew.
There is something rich and satisfying about the violence of tearing out weeds and dead plants. Feeling their roots and tubers rip through the soil, leaving clean earth behind, ready for planting with fall lettuce. Pulling out the old cucumbers, the skin on my arms prickled with their spines as if I had hugged a bale of fiberglass.
Harvesting tomatoes has become an adventure akin to exploring the uncharted rain forests of South America, or mapping the Niger. It requires contortion and courage to reach the bunches of Reisentraube and the pendulous Plum Lemons. The smells of fermenting fruit and crumbling eggshells are thick beneath the leaves, and the scent of the plants themselves is intoxicating–green and heady, like cool water and the fall of evening.
The popcorn is all off the stalk now, and the stalks in the compost, ready to break down beneath the snow and be spread on the garden beds next spring. The particolored kernels gleam like rough gems in the sunlight.
Things are beginning to die back. This time of year always makes my mother sad–she prefers the spring, when the new radishes are raising their leaves and the arugula bursts from the black soil. Her love of growth and spring helped bring this garden to fruition. But autumn has always been my favorite time of year, September in particular, because it is a time of preparation, of industry, of purposeful activity. It is a time of trust–that the spring will come again, and that all your raking and turning and mulching will be rewarded when the ice melts and the first green sprouts push into the light.