Food, Home

A Killing Frost

The killing frost usually comes mid-September in Worthington, and then most of our gardens are done for the year. I have five wide raised beds, twenty feet long, filled with vegetables, from peas to garlic to salad fixings to squash, although not corn because it doesn’t do well here nor onions because I have no luck with them. When we built our home, I could have a large garden finally, but the dozer’s blade sheered off the topsoil in our clearing and what was left was hardpan clay. As Lester Champion, a truck farmer in town, once said, “The ground was so hard you could beat out an iron bar with it.”

So I dug soil from the woods that surround our home, and then used logs to hold it in place. Hank, who likes the world to be plumb, built wooden frames, which I used for a few years. I babied those beds, mixing in organic matter, worms, and after a few years I was as proud of that soil as I was of the vegetables that grew from it.

Then several years ago, we had to replace our septic system. It was built to specs but didn’t hold up to two adults and six kids. (For you city dwellers, here’s a tutorial. The waste from our drains and toilets go into a cement box underground, and then the liquid is piped into a leach field where it’s supposed to be absorbed. Ours wasn’t doing that. Later we had a party to officially dedicate the new septic system. I invited my friends from work. They had never heard of such a thing. Neither had we, but it was a good excuse for a party.) But before the work could be done, I had to move my garden, because it would be in the way of a new large leach field. I could have left it behind but I had invested too much in that soil.

So I moved it. I used a spade to fill a wheelbarrow with garden dirt, and then pushed it uphill to a place I knew the dozer wouldn’t go. It took me several weekends. I’m good at these types of plodding outdoor chores: stacking wood, clearing brush, mowing, weeding. I just keep going, putting the little pieces together, not thinking about anything, or working out a problem or what I’ll write next, until I’m done.

Now, my garden’s in a good, high spot, and the earth is black with life and sheltered by a stand of red pines that helps it withstand light frosts. But there’s no stopping a killing frost. What remains after white crystals coat the ground are the hardy greens, Swiss chard, lettuce, if I made a late planting, and kale. The kale I pick until it’s covered by snow. This past year that happened at Christmas. But the tender plants, the tomatoes, cukes, and green beans, are gone. Next month I’ll plant garlic bulbs, and then cover them with a thick mulch of hay to get them through the winter.

We remind ourselves to call Dean Morey, the man who cuts our cordwood, and about all the autumn chores ahead. Already we smell smoke at night from our neighbors’ chimneys. The trees have faded into mossy greens, and the kids are back in school. Winter is on its way. There’s no denying it.
Yesterday my garden in Taos got dinged by frost. The photo above was taken earlier this summer. Some of the tender plants are hanging on, but my garden isn’t the lush oasis it was two days ago. Then, appropriately I found this piece I wrote about my garden in Worthington.

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