So, a whole summer happened. Lived the damn thing so hard I hardly got my computer out. Now I’m wearing leg warmers and making a mental inventory of unattractive fleece in the wardrobe. As the season changes, the talk around the neighbourhood is all about how splendid autumn is. The softer light, a tinge of green in the grass, the windless warm days edged by cooler dawns and dusks.
There was a light frost this morning but I’m still eating watermelon and harvesting tomatoes, which seems incongruous given the temperatures. And that brings me to the business of the day – summer vegetable prize-giving. After my first season growing, I’m taking a moment to assess the successes and failures. I think the lessons have extended past the vegetable patch…
Dux – nerd capsicums. Look at this perfection:
I am extremely surprised about how good this crop is. I had nothing to do with it except some pretty good soil prep, a mid-season dynamic lifter application (composted chicken manure, blood and bone, fish meal and seaweed served up as pellets) and semi-regular watering. We planted too close, but as a result there were few weeds and little moisture evaporation from the soil. I often chomp on one as I water the garden – usually the riper red, as they have twice the vitamin C of the green.
Most improved – tomatoes get it. I planted a few varieties, they did nothing.
The heat of early January really got them when they were young and I thought they wouldn’t recover. In the last month they’ve really come on.
Now I’m picking them greenish to beat the birds and throwing them about in salads and on toast. I haven’t got enough of my own to make sauce and have had to buy in, but I have grand visions for next year.
Prize for effort – planting a variety of melons over a dry summer? Foolish novelty perhaps, but I didn’t end up needing to buy in water and my tanks are still half full so I’m not going to beat myself up. Particularly when the cantaloupe tasted like it did. Caramelised nectar. Memories of $90 watermelon in Japan lead me to look upon this homegrown fruit with amazement.
Sex fiend – there is always one in class. Overdeveloped and precocious. Every backyard gardener has a similar zucchini story – each time I walked past this I thought “I must pick that” and the next time you look it’s an obscene monstrosity and you can’t take your eyes off it. Chicken feed I think.
Non-starter – damn beans. Sowed a red bean and a white bean (don’t ask the variety, have no idea). They got to 20cm and then stopped. Gardening is a very mysterious business at times.
Back of the class talker – I can identify with the basil here. Never bloody shutting up, this stuff is still growing. I planted 30 this year so I could make a batch of basil oil, which should keep into the months ahead.
Teacher’s pet – it’s got to be the beets (followed closely by the leeks). They’re just so well-behaved. We planted quite a few, they struggled on through the heat and have been pickable for weeks.
I would recommend beetroot to the novice vegetable gardener; they’ll build your confidence as they don’t seem to know how to fail. And the leaves are as valuable as the root, which is pretty endearing.
Special prize for fat lady tuck shop arms – the bees. Neighbour Terry built a hive on my front lawn and I enjoyed seeing them labour about the sunflowers and veggie beds. A few weeks ago I helped (watched) Terry extract the honey – a pretty straight forward business if you’ve got the right equipment. I got a couple of kilos, which is a few kilos more than I was expecting after such a summer. He texted me a few days later “doesn’t it taste floral?” It does. Quite unlike the strongly flavoured eucalyptus stuff that dominates supermarket shelves in Australia. Sunflower honey. Yum.
If I learnt anything this season past it is to get seedlings in early and not pull poor performers prematurely. I pulled out my eggplants in a fit after they were mauled by caterpillars – now the caterpillars are gone and Pepe’s plants up the road are still producing. He’s the market gardener so I guess I should have listened. And try new crops. I never produced a single edible pepper before this season and as I cradle perfect specimens in my arms I realise that one day I might even have luck with carrots.
Of course I haven’t planted my autumn seedlings yet so it looks like I’m a poor learner. But I am on a good path and have come some way. Back in the late ’90s I wouldn’t allow plants in the house – “they’re dirty!” And now, well, tending plants brings a particular serene and earthy joy that nothing else can touch. If that can happen to me, then there’s probably a similar journey inside everyone.