Martha’s Vineyard gardens yield end of summer bounty

Margaret Knight's garden produced a bounty of cucumbers and squash. — Photo by Lily K. Morris

By this time in the gardening season, we know each other pretty well, my garden and me. The plants have adapted the best they can to my watering and weeding schedule, which is based more on my needs than theirs, and I’ve come to accept the garden as it is, to take pleasure in what’s growing well.

Whenever I unlatch my garden gate, I feel happy anticipation, like untying the bow on a present. Inside the garden there’s always something to admire — tall zinnias blooming in shades of pink and red, an herb to smell or taste, or some vegetable to discover, like a cucumber I hadn’t seen growing under the leaves. I can ignore this year’s great crop failures, such as the green beans that have been systematically eaten, each successive planting, by some critter (voles are the prime suspect). This is no longer a source of angst for me, partly because by early September, there’s such a bounty of vegetables, fruits, and flowers that it’s hard to get upset over what didn’t grow.

If gardening is ever to give one a sense of plenty, it’s now when the fruit-producing vegetables are at their height: cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, summer squash, eggplant, and peppers – the vegetables we associate with summer. This year, the winning vegetable in my garden is cucumber, which I grew on a trellis. Out of all the vegetables, cucumbers seem the most satisfied with the combination of rain, sun, and attention I’ve given them. The vines have been the least bothered by insects or critters, and they’ve produced prolifically.

Along with the bounty, of course, comes the need to do something with it: prepare it, preserve it, sell it, or give it away. I sell some of my vegetables at the little farmers market we hold each week for an hour on the porch of the Chappaquiddick Community Center, but often when I have lots of something, everyone else does too. Some people find surreptitious ways to give away extra vegetables, such as leaving them at a neighbor’s house when no one’s home. One day a couple of weeks ago, a dozen cucumbers appeared on the table near the coffee maker at the Oak Bluffs town hall where I work. No one seemed to know who brought them. At times, a box of summer squash has appeared on the passenger bench of the Chappy ferry. It’s kind of like the way people leave free couches by the side of the road.

For my part, I feel terrible about wasting any of the bounty my garden has produced, and I try to think of every kind of way to use the surplus. It makes for creative cooking. My daughter, Lily K. Morris, cultures vegetables, including cucumbers, and her fridge is completely full of jars of pickles. Recently, she said, “I’m ready to rip out my cucumber vines,” and she actually admitted to throwing some vegetables into the woods behind her house.

Chappy gardener Sharlee Livingston said she has lots of cucumbers, too. She said, “A month ago, I’d put in all this work and it looked like nothing was going to grow. Now I’m finally picking cukes, eggplants, tomatoes, and basil – on the Vineyard, we have to wait until mid-August. I should just plan for a fall garden, when the days are beautiful.”

This time of year I focus mainly on the vegetables and fruits, cultivated and wild, and let the other garden chores go. Pruning raspberries, dividing bulbs, and preparing beds for garlic can wait for cooler weather. Instead, I spend hours cutting up little wormy apples, making pesto and pickles, and freezing tomato sauce.

No matter what the growing season is like, there is always something that grows well, something that brings satisfaction. This year some of my corn stalks grew 12 feet high. I like to stand in their shade and listen to them rustle in the wind in a way that sounds almost tropical, and dream about what I’d like to do with next year’s garden.

Trying to figure out what to do with all your cukes and zukes? Margaret Knight’s daughter Lily makes lots and lots of pickles — without vinegar. Check it out here: MVTimes/Pickles.