Breaking Down


The gardens are starting to fade, and it’s time to start cleaning up and practicing good field sanitation.

I’m going to burn all the nightshade family residues this year–the tomato vines, pepper and eggplant, potatoes.  There are a few trellises of tomatoes that are far enough gone from a variety of fungal diseases that the process of tear-down can start anytime.

Yesterday I went out and harvested as many still-ripening tomatoes as I could and pulled a few pepper plants that weren’t looking so hot.  I’m tempted to go after the eggplant, but they’re still producing–albeit very slowly.

The black ones will go soon though–I’ll pull all the decent-looking fruits for market next week and consign the plants to the burn pile.  I won’t be growing that heirloom variety again–so many of the fruits had rotten bottoms.

I also took a brush knife to the blooming-and-diminishing broccoli plants.  Since the bees are still enjoying some of the fresher flowers, I only took a few–hacking them up into the smallest pieces practical to spread onto the compost pile.

Last year, I waited until spring to break down the broccoli, and by that time, the stalks were so woody that some of them are still not broken down entirely, so I’m trying to go at them in a greener stage this time around. I may sift through the compost and give H a pile of woody stalks for the chipper-shredder next time I turn the pile.

I also started hacking away at the Red Currant tomato plant, which has not had a problem with disease (so can be composted), and is still growing at an alarming rate.  The removal of the outer layer of vines should also help me harvest the ripe fruits without being swallowed up by the tomato-that-ate-Vermillion.

The problem with compost at this time of year is that the quality and amount of nitrogen-rich green materials is going downhill.  Since I don’t try to haul my kitchen scraps back out to the farm and the grasses are getting woody-stemmed and carbonaceous, it’s harder to get that nice hot pile with vegetable matter alone.

But yesterday, on my way to a dinner party downstreet, I ran into a couple of guys mowing and piling the clippings from an unsprayed neighborhood lawn into the back of their truck.  They happily agreed to dump them in my backyard, and I will haul some of those out for a better nitrogen ratio for the farm pile.

Closer to home, I started working a bit more on the town gardens yesterday afternoon.  I’d kept hearing this announcement in Jones’ that “Fall if the perfect time for planting,” and I’d think–yes!  and the leftover perennials are cheap!–and then I’d go out to their greenhouse, and it’d be locked up.

So when I stopped there on the way home from the farm, I walked into the hardware store and asked what was up with the teasing.  Well, turns out all the gallon perennials are $2.50 and you just need to ask them to unlock the greenhouse for you–it’s like a private tour (albeit of leftovers).

I bought six plants to fill in where things had been killed by the tromping of the paint project.  I’m kind of re-thinking my home garden color strategy now because of the big color change on the house–no more yellows and oranges–I’m going for blues, purples and pinks: hyssop, pink salvia, dianthus, creeping phlox, New England aster.

I’m a sucker for rescuing plants, and although these weren’t too far gone, they were bone-dry and pulling away from their pots, so I soaked them in a tub of fish-emulsioned water while I prepped the bed.

Let me tell you that compacted clay soil is a real b*tch to work with.  After scraping up as much of the paint chips as I could, I levered up and hacked apart the chunky clay the best I was able without killing the plants still surviving in the area. Then, I mixed in some dried-and-crumbly maple leaves and what was left of the potting mix I had in the basement.

While I have a ton of cottonwood leaves already peppering the backyard, I don’t use those in bed prep because they don’t break down like maple leaves do.  Their waxy coating needs special treatment; this is where some of those grass clippings will come in handy to burn them up.  But cottonwood (and aspen) leaves have a special place in my heart–their sandy, acidic scent is the very aroma of autumn in my mind.

Today, besides an afternoon birthday party for a certain law professor who is turning sixty, and besides working a bit more on responding to student proposal essay ideas, I’ll try to get the second half of those rescued perennials in the ground.

I’ll also start a layering of cottonwood leaves and grass clippings in the raised bed here at home–trying to avoid burning the volunteer buttercup squash that started on one end of that bed and has turned the corner, headed uphill, and is now tickling the top of my sage plant in the herb garden about fifteen feet away.

It seems even with the pitfalls of the season–the disease and the compaction and the bugs and the critters, plants just want to grow–want to produce their flowers and their fruits and their tempting seeds that are the hope for a next generation.

Is it just me, or do you hear, amidst the fruition–the ripening and the decay–the whisperings promises of next year, next year

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2 responses to this post.

  1. What do you recommend for us city folks (giggle) who can’t burn the bad stuff in their gardens?

  2. Posted by flyingtomato on September 27, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Well, now, Ms. City Slicker from the Big Town, I suggest cleaning up the diseased stuff, bagging it, and putting it in the trash. 😉

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