Here it is just a month until the first day of autumn, and I'm still waiting for summer to arrive.
That's not to say I haven't complained bitterly every day that we have had temperatures into the 90s, but we've yet to string together a succession of hot days that would convince me it really is summer and has been for two months.
With the approach of fall, however, it's time to turn our gardening thoughts to winter and replacing our summer crops with the cold weather ones. As usual, I'm having issues with that. My cucumbers haven't produced any fruit yet -- how can I think of pulling them out and planting Romanesco?
Although the confused summer makes it a bit worse, I have this trouble every year. With limited vegetable gardening space, I can't overlap my planting times. One crop must go before the other can be planted, and it's so hard to say goodbye.
I invest a lot of energy and emotion into those summer veggies. Days after planting, I prowl the garden looking for signs of production. Is that a bloom on the tomato plant? Is that the start of pepper pod? When will the squash start flowering? Once things do start happening, then it's a daily check to see if anything is ripe. The wait is interminable; the season is much too short.
If I'm anxious about getting my garden started, that's nothing compared to pulling it out. I've been known to leave the tomatoes in the ground until Christmas, clinging to the belief -- the impossible dream, really -- that those few scrawny green tomatoes dangling from bare vines will defy nature and ripen.
I prefer to think of it as loyalty, rather than insanity, but still.
My difficulty in letting go has in the past prevented me from growing a winter garden, but I'm sort of determined this year. Yet, it's not easy. For one thing, I love summer veggies; I'm not overly keen on the winter ones. The irony does not escape me -- you can grow twice as many winter crops as summer crops, so surely there must be something out there I could dote on.
Brassicas are big in winter -- lots of cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts. They're not my favorites, although I am intrigued by Romanesco, which looks like scores of miniature Christmas trees growing on another planet. A big green planet. That could be interesting, not to mention tasty.
The Contra Costa Master Gardeners also have started differently colored cauliflower and are selling the seedlings to support Our Garden. Along with the Romanesco, some colorful cauliflower would make a winter rainbow.
I probably should go a completely different direction and plant a cover crop on my poor, overworked veggie bed. A big stand of fava beans would add nitrogen and biomass to my plot, and there's no denying that fava blooms can rival roses for beauty. Plus my friend, Food & Wine editor Jackie Burrell, would love me forever if I let her share in the harvest.
Probably my favorite winter crop of all time is beets. I so love beets. I could eat them every day and twice on Sunday, although I'll assure you I don't.
Maybe I'll try them this year. After I pull out the squash and cucumbers. Sometime soon. Maybe in November?
Contact Joan Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 925-977-8479.