The End of the Season

by the Modern Clubman Staff

Gardening for me has always been more passive than active. Living in the south, once you get safely clear of frost, you’re in good hands with Mother Nature. I’ve always planted a random smattering, kept it weeded, shooed the odd squirrel, and hoped for the best. Last year I planted thyme, cilantro, lavender and cucumbers, which died; peas, rosemary, strawberries, which did alright; and basil and hot peppers, which did phenomenally well. The peppers especially, jalapeno and serrano, exceeded all expectations and grew to be the tallest, bushiest, most productive plants I’ve seen outside of a Miracle-Gro advertisement. 

They were slow to start producing, and I didn’t really see the first pepper, a lone jalapeno, until the middle of July. As the summer progressed, yield seemed to follow an exponential pattern, and as the summer turned completely to autumn, I had bushes that could hardly stand under the weight of their peppers. 

That seasonal window, where the weather is cool and the growing season really feels like it should be over, always evokes a feeling that I’ve managed to cheat the seasons, that I’ve got fruit or veggies that I snuck in under Jack Frost’s nose. Of course, I know that this is simple developmental entropy, and that the plants are living on borrowed time, and I’m even prone to the nagging feeling that my summer crops are taking up space that could go to something that profits from cooler weather. Still, there is a magic to late harvest summer crops that I cannot entirely explain and would never want to dismiss. 

Growing up, my mom grew tomatoes, and did so in profound frustration. When we lived nearer to town, the brazen suburban deer were her worst enemy. When she moved out to the country, hornworms devastated her plants, and groundhogs, with whom neither of us could ever really get angry, took snacks all summer long. When the air grew cool, however, the animals slowed down. The bugs seemed to lose their appetites, and the mammals, I suppose (in speculative ignorance, mind you), shifted their interests to things that could be stored through winter. From the middle of September well into October, nature seemed to draw a truce. It didn’t just apply to tomatoes, either. The groundhogs and the bugs left the cantaloupe patch alone, too. They grew all summer, but this autumnal window was the only time we ever got to try the fruits of our labor. 

Even the things that go mostly unaccosted all summer, like okra and squash, feel like treats when the temperature drops. The last fried summer vegetables of the year, eaten well into October on either a crisp, cool day or a grey, foggy one, feel as scarce and unobtainable as a Cuban cigar. Knowing that you’re probably having the last of something, at least for a while, is always bittersweet, but likewise always profound. 

Of course, there’s always summer to look forward to. In the south, where I live, the wintertime is a far more agreeable season to build raised beds, install trellises, and dig terraces than the balmy summer months. But nobody reasonable grows a garden for the yardwork- they do it for the produce. I can’t speak for anybody but myself, but I grow mine to have enough vegetables to feel rooted in the seasons, to have some spoils of summer to enjoy and to share with my friends and neighbors. When summer is here, I enjoy it; when it’s gone, I miss it.  So this winter, as always, I’ll try my best to muddle through it, and I’ll stay thankful for the extra months of summer benefits I reap from my late season garden.