It was another hot summer, but thankfully, not as hot as last year. I have a freezer full of tomato sauce from a bumper crop of tomatoes, and not cherry tomatoes or paste tomatoes or mid-size tomatoes, but Black Krim and Brandywine, two of the best big slicers in the world. One can only eat so many fresh tomatoes so it’s the dryer or the saucepan for the rest. My clay soil retains water so well that I watered my tomato plants exactly once, on the day I planted them in late May. After years of planting into sandy soil, it’s nice to have clay. But I digress…as usual. These days the air is crisp and it’s time to pull the annuals and tender perennials to get cover crops planted in their place. The garden needs its winter rest and we growers need to harvest the fruit of our labors.
I finally bought two traps to catch the rabbit(s). Hmm, if only it were that simple. Rabbits are smarter than I thought and I have a new respect for them. I’ve caught and released two squirrels but the rabbits are tougher customers. They’re steering clear of the traps. Maybe I’ll stop growing the grain bed for a few years, since that was a rabbit magnet and a disaster this year. It looked like it had been mowed in places. It’s always something in a garden. Ask any gardener and they’ll tell you a variation of my tale, “Something is eating my plants”. It might be a tiny insect or a huge ungulate, but unsolicited herbivory is part of the bargain when you grow a garden. And so it goes.
The snow is starting to fall higher up in the mountains and the rain is slowly returning to the lowlands. We need more rain for the fall mushroom season but I’m happy to say I’ve crossed paths with a few porcini (Boletus edulis) on backpacking trips in September. Matsutakes (Tricholoma magnivelare), if they’re going to appear, should be popping with this colder weather, but who knows? Last year’s summer drought and intense heat must have been hard on the mycelium. I didn’t bother foraging last fall and maybe this will be another fungal recovery year.
The oak tree (Quercus rober) that languished on the border of section C last year was finally declared dead and cut down. One of the evergreen huckleberries (Vaccinium ovatum), on the border of sections D and E, has lost some limbs and I won’t be surprised if it gives up the ghost. In a drought, all of the plants put more of their resources into finding water. Unfortunately, they’re all competing for the same limited resource. The nearby Sierra redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) has stretched its roots into adjacent beds, sucking up much of the water that the smaller plants need. It’s difficult to keep the plants on the east side of section D sufficiently irrigated. The soil surface might look damp but just below it’s bone dry and full of tree roots. The same is true on the east sides of sections E and F. There are too many big trees much too close to the garden beds and they will be an increasing problem for a long, long time, especially as we live through the transition to warmer summers.
But it’s October now, harvest time, and the rain is here and heat is behind us as we brace for winter. Delicious ground cherries (Physalis spp.) are ripening. They’re an excellent fruit but they ripen late. Give them a very sunny and protected spot and start them at least as early as you start your tomatoes.
Before retiring one of the tropical/subtropical beds for the winter, I photographed the striped cucumber plants (Diplocyclos palmatus). The fruit have been used medicinally in India. They are toxic and not for eating, but they made a beautiful display on the trellis.
Maybe try these Chilean guava (Ugni molinae) fruit instead, for a sweet, spicy addition to a savory salad. There was a small crop last year, but this year both bushes near section C were covered in fruit. The fruit forest from across the street is being reborn on the north border of section C and the lawn east of Benson Hall. The first prune plums (Prunus domestica), Nanking cherries (Prunus tomentosa) and Chilean myrtle berries (Luma apiculata) should be ready for harvest by 2018 and the paw paws (Asimina triloba) by 2019.
Some fruiting vines, shrubs and trees bear fruit pretty dependably, and others have productive years followed by nearly barren years. It takes a lot of energy to produce fruit and environmental stress, like too much heat or cold (that might damage the plant’s tissue or shut down its pollinators), not enough water, robust competition from neighboring plants, excessive herbivory, disease etc., can all play a part in irregular fruit output. I’d love to have the time to study the vagaries of fruit production but other duties call. The best I can do is try to be observant. So I do (when I remember) note on the seed collection envelopes, very high or low volume seed production years. If I lived a thousand years and kept very good records, maybe I’d gain some insights worth passing on, but there are so many variables…I’m not sure a thousand years would be enough.
Last year the maypop (Passiflora incarnata) was covered in fruit. This year there is only one.
There were more trifoliate orange fruit last year, but they were all small, a very late second crop after the first crop dropped off, presumably due to the intense heat and lack of water. This year they’re fully ripening for the first time in about a decade. I know not why. If you want a life full of unending mystery, become a gardener.
Since no charismatic predatory birds or adorable (Grrr!) bunnies would pose for the camera, this little spider had to step in for the obligatory fauna shot. What a handsome spider.
view from an orchard ladder
harvest time again
See you in the garden.