Friday, December 4, 2009

December surprises:

Anyone who doubts climate change is not a gardener. Much of it is pleasant in NJ, but change is certainly afoot!
My tomato year is surely different. Four weeks ago today, when frost was correctly predicted for that night, I picked what I thought were all the tomatoes in the garden. As predicted, the vines were all black the next morning. But I kept finding tomatoes! Oddly enough, most were still edible, or at least were after they ripened. I conclude that the vines are killed before the fruit.
I have since determined that the same is true for peppers and eggplant. The peppers I missed on the drooping plants were fine for eating raw. We ate our last raw peppers this evening, despite my farmer-uncle's belief that they last only two weeks in the refrigerator.
Today AGAIN I found an eggplant on a hidden vine. It is soft, but judging by its predecessors in the past month, it will be a tasty addition to stir-fries. I never tried eating tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants picked after a killing frost before, but, in truth, I've never found so many before. Messy gardener!

In the front yard the chrysanthemums are no longer blooming, but the alyssm blooms on! I never thought of alyssm as an after-frost plant before. The zinnias, as expected, went black 4 weeks ago, both the plants and the flowers -- except for those I picked the day before the frost. I now have one last chrysanthemum in my table bouquet along with alyssm and azalea branches, which are a beautiful red and green now -- and need to be pruned. The holly berries are thriving, of course, but I can wait until next week and mix them with the white daffodils inside. I brought in some impatiens plants that tucked themselves near my chimney and were still alive two weeks ago after their friends were long frost-killed. They are now bearing flowers in my greenhouse window, as is a nasturtium plant I took in before frost.
Back inside, I covered my kitchen counter with tomatoes (only a slight exaggeration) four weeks ago, and then took two boxes of green tomatoes, wrapped in black and white newspaper, to the cold cellar. For the past four weeks we have eaten fresh tomatoes every evening from the counter. Some rot on one side and are fine on the other. We've eaten, therefore, lots of partial tomatoes, but one doesn't put an entire supersteak into one's mouth anyway. Tomatoes that turned red without any blemishes I put in a small container in the refrigerator. I have six such small containers now.
When I had no red tomatoes on the counter this week, I went to the cold cellar. Surprise! There were many that were red, and some that had rotted, making the box containing them fit only for the garbage. Now we have a whole new supply of to-be-edited tomatoes, and some green ones still in the cellar. It's been many years that I've eaten tomatoes well into December, and I like it.
Each day I pick a stalk of celery, and we share it in our dinner salad. The arugula is abundant still for a basic salad green, and some days we enjoy the lettuce from the plants that the woodchucks left behind. Salads are still good here.
The pac choi children of last year's volunteer plant that protected pea plants when it revived in the spring are doing well, and we're enjoying them in stir-fries. I hope they protect the peas next year if our abundant anti-woodchuck plants don't work any better next year than this.
I made a mistake in protecting my collards. I put floating cover over them, but it apparently kept the bad guys inside. I took it off and they are flourishing. David said they were victims of a green worm, and I confirmed that in my own mind when I found one in my pac choi harvest.
Alas, they have affected my Chinese cabbage in my cold frame, but I'm still hoping for good stir-fries in February. Much still looks good.
Would you believe I nibbled on sweet raspberries today? I harvested enough for breakfast toppings for days after the "killing" frost, but since then it's just been nibbles in the garden. I didn't count how many I harvested today, but it might have been enough for breakfast if I had engaged in delayed gratification. They were mighty good from the vine, and each one I found I thought was just one last treat. I don't remember such treats in December before. But, then, who ever heard of temperatures in the 60's in December before?


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