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The Urban Gardener: Some Like it Hot, Harvest Time

Saturday, September 27, 2014


Urban gardeners have a lot going on in their city plots. Fall is a wonderful time to have fun in the garden. Everything is about the soil and the harvest. Finally, all but the latest pears are off the daily menu. Quickly stewed with a freshet of raspberries or made into jams and mostly caned into ranks of quart jars, the Asian pears have made their way to family, friends and colleagues. Dwarf fruit trees offer abundant harvests of beautiful fruit in very small plots. Sunshine, good drainage and a modicum of care will translate into tasty nutritious food.

The summer’s hay mulch is fast disappearing beneath those tomatoes that just won’t quit. Tomatoes pollinate when night time temperatures are above 62 F degrees. Those that remain are swollen with goodness. The last to hang on are the Jet Star cherry tomatoes and those curiously huge white tomatoes grown for novelty’s sake. Most gardeners just can’t keep up with the cherry tomatoes. I trim back leaves and stems to reveal the ripe red tomatoes and expose the still numerous green tomatoes to sunshine.

The soil beneath the tomatoes is covered in fallen red fruit. My practice is to constantly add organic material. Perhaps your office has a coffee machine with disposable individual coffee pods. Once ours started brewing, with general consensus, a covered gallon bucket found a place nearby. Soon, the bucket attracted not only coffee bean paper pods but also apple cores, eggshells, banana skins, and salad. A couple times a week it’s easily tipped into a plastic shopping bag. Once home without any fanfare the contents are buried into the garden. The good will of colleagues supports the effort. Be reliable and simply add this simple chore to routine and a steady supply of organic materials transported thousands of miles are made home.

Fortunately for us, September brings out the best in many herbs and flowers. I’ve stopped deadheading the zinnias, cosmos, and marygolds.  Each flaunt their final colorful glories before I snip off plenty of seeds for next year. I’m into my eighth year with the zinnias and believe my casual selection of favorite colors is assuming my signature. You can too! Like many urban gardeners, I grow right up to the city sidewalk. The sunny flower bed facing the sidewalk is still ablaze with color. Sure, the crimson roses catch the eye. What stops traffic though are those errant volunteers growing up from the concrete cracks. Cleome and verbena have found a toehold. Life’s glorious powers prevail here. Nature is willful and we’re all the better for it. What is a step around these stalwarts but an homage?

The New England aster or Michaelmass daisy, is the current garden champion. Our native plants need little encouragement. Easily grown from divisions, asters offer profoundly beautiful arrays of bloom. Always vigorous, they are a green footnote until September when they leap skyward and flower. Drowsy bumblebees cluster on the individually small flowers. Aster is Latin for star and the flowers tiny outreaching petals radiate from a golden pollen laden center. They sometimes fall over but tolerate a jute cord tightened to bring all together. A smaller white cousin sometimes comes along for the ride, often on the fringes of civilization. With some TLC, they will grow well for any gardener. Sometimes, it’s the smaller wall flowers that capture the heart.

The scent of autumn is in the air. Start grooming the garden. I find a pair of sharp snipers to be invaluable. Always at hand, I snip back summer’s growth into smaller pieces right on the spot. The permanent mulch welcomes the steady rain of detritus. The garden is beginning its fallow time. Soon an endless supply of leaves will be available for everyone.  There is absolutely no trace of the scores of bagged leaves brought into the garden last year. Rather, the soil is soft and pliable, an ode to thriving micro ecosystems. Turn your garden plot into a giant compost heap and it will return the attention sevenfold. Soil becomes vibrant with life and absorbs anything bio-degradable. Pause fellow gardeners and savor the ripe rewards. Breath deep. Gardening brings out the best in all of us.

Leonard Moorehead is a life-long gardener. He practices organic-bio/dynamic gardening techniques in a side lot surrounded by city neighborhoods in Providence RI. His adventures in composting, wood chips, manure, seaweed, hay and enormous amounts of leaves are minor distractions to the joy of cultivating the soil with flowers, herbs, vegetables, berries, and dwarf fruit trees.


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