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Finding the bright side of a disastrous gardening season.

Summer Solstice '92: The temperature gods are bored so drop a little winter on us - about 25 degrees worth. Hah, gotcha! And you thought your tomatoes and peppers and beans and squash were safe.

So went another season in the world of the gardens. A few more good frosts in July, some in August, and the usual in September. We'd had cool summers before, other years with frost every month, but not quite like this one.

I suppose you could call it a disaster, give up and wait for next year. But who knows what next year will bring? Besides, next year's garden won't help you to eat this year. Might as well look at the bright side.

The bright sides

And there were many. Of course, they were easier to admit since I had canned up a storm last year (another unusual summer, but one of the long and hot instead of the short and cold). I still had plenty of tomatoes and pickles, a dozen jars of beans, a few of soup. I don't know when I would have found time to can this year anyway. It was nice not to be worrying about it. A sentiment shared by many friends.

But we still had to eat. And our choice, and budget, was to eat out of the garden. So we did, and we are, and we will. Differently, but just as satisfying. Salads all summer, sauteed vegetables and steamed grains into the fall, greens soup into the winter. We will relish our one winter squash when we eat it, assuming we don't "save it for that special occasion" so long that it rots. And those few small tomatoes that ripened in the greenhouse were indeed a special treat.

The handful of dried beans that survived were hardly what I had in mind last spring when planting bed after bed of them. A dozen different varieties, most from my own seed, a few new ones. Special ones from members of the Seed Savers Exchange. Only about 30 seeds each. Plant half, save half. I'm glad I had learned that lesson in years past. My hopes of another year in my quest to find and breed dry beans that will grow and mature up here. Well, there's always next year. I hope. Anyway, the bean plants were good for the ground, even if they died young. And so are the oats that I planted after them. And maybe I should admit that dry beans are not cold climate crops no matter how much fun they are, and I ought to spend more time with the dry peas.

Ah, but look at those carrots. Guess I got a little Queen Anne's lace in my carrot seed last year, a surprise white root now and then. And those Giganta carrot samples lived up to their name - good tasting, too. It'll be interesting to see how they keep in the root cellar. And the potatoes. Spud life as usual, at least for those I covered with hay when the frosts came. Potato bugs enough for both the birds and me. And those big metallic purple bugs that I have yet to find in an insect book. A little scab, not much blight (too cold?). The baskets in the root cellar are full. Okay, so maybe we're eating all those tiny ones this year that we usually compost. They're cute. Besides they make up a good portion of our crop. We appreciate them this year.

And the onions finally made it, having been coaxed along as long as the weather would permit, covering them each night, talking warm talk to them. Most of them were thicknecks this year but they still taste good. The ones that dried well will get us through till next year, though they'll have to be rationed, no doubt. And meantime, we'll eat onions with our onions, and throw a few potatoes in for show, and enjoy them while we can.

And I'll take a special care with those Yellow Potato Onions I tried last spring. They may be smaller than the "usual crop" onions but they all matured early and with nice, dry, thin necks. An heirloom variety. We can learn a lot from those "heirlooms" whether they be plant, animal or human.

Greens. The saviors of our garden. Salad greens, cooking greens, cole crops, chard crops. They grew. I learned a special appreciation for the green things in my garden this year. I thank them. And will plant more next year.

I guess I can't say we had a bad year garden-wise this past summer. We ate, and are eating well, with little "outside " food. But it did bring up some sobering thoughts concerning feeding ourselves, with extra for others. Something that, though not taken for granted, I assumed I could always do. The hardest thing, I had thought, was to get used to eating only what you could grow. But always I assumed a "regular garden". A little change in our weather, and our gardens are no longer "regular".

Fighting Nature will not help us to survive and live good lives (have we learned that yet?). But I think we can learn to bend and adapt, to fit in with her moods and responses to what we are doing to her. We could moan and groan about how terrible the weather and the storms are. And maybe it's important to do that. Rant and rave. Then shake ourselves and get on with it. See our gardens from a different perspective. Are we planting things that will provide food in an extra cold year? An extra warm year? Drier than "normal"? Wetter than "usual"?

I think these times are a special challenge for those of us who choose to tend to the food gathering and growing. And I think we need each other as much as ever. To share problems and solutions, successes and failures. Questions and answers. To learn and to teach, then to teach and to learn. I think we can do it, and I think it can be fun.
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Author:Robishaw, Sue
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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