The sky is grey and the air is damp. The evenings are getting shorter. The storks are gone. Hay has been cut and is being brought in by the tractor-load. Around the village fires are being lit, the smoke from chimneys barely distinguishable from the grey clouds above. Almost without warning, summer is over and autumn is upon us.
Not that it was a great summer. In fact, it was a pretty poor summer in terms of weather and therefore vegetable growing. I thought I was off to a good start but I was very quickly kicked to touch when snow fell in May, almost killing my tomatoes, and then again in June when frost hit my courgettes (zucchini). My tomato plants all eventually recovered but they never regained their original strength. They also missed out on an early opportunity to flower while they recovered. Because I had to remove so many dead branches, only the upper parts of the plants produced any fruit. Some plants produced no fruit. From 26 plants I reckon I only have about 6 kilos (13 lbs) of fruit. I have made one batch of tomato sauce for the freezer with my own tomatoes but will need to buy tomatoes from the market to make the rest of what I need.
Last year I was picking courgettes from late June and had to pick daily to keep myself from getting overrun with them. This year I didn’t get any fruit until early July, and while I’m now picking a bucket every few days, the yield does not compare to previous years, especially given that I have 15 plants. To be honest, I now have as many of them as I can handle, but I am disappointed that they started so late.
My cucumbers are another disaster. I wouldn’t even like to share a photo, so brown are the leaves. I don’t know what happened to them – the plants grew like wildfire at the beginning and were so lush and healthy. I can only assume the lack of sunshine for most of July took its toll.
Back in May I planted 26 corn seeds and originally had 26 seedlings, most of which looked strong. Unfortunately the cold spell in June and the torrential rain in July washed many of them away. Only 6 remain, 4 of which have ears of corn developing. I was hoping for a warm end to the summer to get them fully ripe, but that now looks unlikely.
Last year I planted a full bed of green beans and was completely overrun with them – I could have survived happily on about a quarter of what I planted. Having stocked my freezer with about 20 kilos, I still ended up letting most of them rot on the plants as fertilizer. This year I planted about half a bed to avoid wastage. So far I’ve only picked about 4 kilos and at this stage I’m not sure I’m going to get much more.
On the plus side, my broccoli has thrived and I expect a large harvest. My cauliflower is also doing well. Some are still quite small, but brassicas are not afraid of the cold, so I hope they will continue growing until late September or maybe into October, as they did last year. Fingers crossed.
My pumpkins are also doing well. I have a few humdingers – maybe 12 kg / 26 lb – and they are still getting bigger. More are developing so I have hopes of a decent harvest.
It has been a frustrating year. While it feels like some work was wasted I do still have a lot of vegetables for eating over the winter months. But I’m not sure I’ll make it all the way to next summer without having to buy vegetables, as was the case with last year’s harvest. We shall see.
I have a new appreciation for farmers who complain about the weather – their livelihood really does depend on it. A cold, wet summer can have a widespread and lasting impact. I noticed a sign in our village offering 7 cent per kilo for apples. Last year the price was 4 c per kilo. Obviously there is a shortage this year which has almost doubled the price. I’m sure the same is true for many other items and we will feel the impact on our supermarket bills.
My limbs are tired, as they always are at the end of the summer. I’m looking forward to slowing down and getting back to reading, writing and photography. And I will savour every delicious bite of my vegetables.