September 8, 2016
Fall is the season of contemplation.
As the days become shorter, I write in my journal more often and turn off the car radio to think while I drive. At the end of summer I toss out a few tired outfits, and think about the times I’ve twirled in those faded dresses.
In September I wonder whether I am having too much fun in life, and the direction I should turn to find more joy.
Mulling it over is also common for farmers and gardeners at this time of year. What worked and what should I try again?
Ixnay on eggplant
The dark lavender petals of eggplant flowers look like they are made out of crepe paper, with contrasting yellow centers. The fruit itself is so glorious that the word “eggplant” is used to describe a color.
Yet, I’d much rather eat just about any other food.
My beau claims that he loves eggplant, but he’s only eaten it from our garden twice this year.
Water is precious.
Space is precious. Why are we growing eggplant?
Flowers not food
In our household, it’s my guy who really enjoys growing the vegetables. I love nibbling on cherry tomatoes while wearing my bathrobe, but I’d rather look at flowers.
A zucchini plant took up about three square feet of space in the black plastic truck bed liner filled with soil. We have harvested two zukes so far.
“Maybe we shouldn’t bother with crookneck squash next year,” I said while unloading food from the farmers market.
The next day my boyfriend sent me a photo of two cheery yellow squash. “You see,” he wrote, “diddling the flowers really does work.”
Yes, the squash are finally producing fruit, but only because we hand-pollinate any female flowers we see. This requires a careful inspection each morning. I’m thrilled we finally learned the new pollination trick. However, I’ve purchased squash at the farmers market for most of the summer.
Give them some shade
We moved to our new house two years ago, and some lessons take years to learn.
After the first blazing summer we put up a few shade structures, including a triangular shade sail and one of those pop-up awnings.
I did a great job of tucking shade-loving plants into deep shade. However, the sun-loving plants did not love way too much sun.
I forgot that the direction of the sun shifts over time. Plus, this was a hard summer. We had several weeks when the temps rose to 100-plus for days in a row.
On more than one occasion I found those shade-loving plants nearly dead and crispy fried.
Most of these plants revived after I trimmed off the dead stuff and placed them in a shaded recuperation zone.
The lesson here is that even if the plants supposedly do well in full sun, they don’t necessarily love the Great Incineration that is Chico in mid summer.
On lessons learned
Right now I’m wishing I had planted multiple pots with zinnia and moss rose (portulaca).
Both of these plants take a while to get up to speed, but provide glorious late-summer bloom while everything else had faded.
Last year I wrote a column about the amazingly abundant orange butterflies, Agraulis vanillae. Don Miller, a bug expert from Chico State University, said this particular butterfly is known to feast on passion vine. I found the passion vine behind my neighbor’s fence and have been watering it from my side of the fence all summer.
Nearly every stem on that vine has been devoured by caterpillars.
It seems like every Agraulis vanillae on the block pays a visit to the zinnia growing on my front porch.
I simply wish I had grown more zinnia.
Other plants still providing summer splendor include impatiens (which have been carefully shaded) and gerbera.