Butterfly time — monarchs, swallowtails, skippers, clouded sulphurs, painted ladies, cabbage whites — they flutter, sail, and float above the garden, reveling in the sunlight.
Visitors and family have left, or are leaving, and there is the bit of calm and quieting down, before hurricane season and autumn bring us to new chapters and different phases in our gardens.
Precipitation has been more than adequate, although some pounding downpours created veritable rivers streaming off into harbors and storm drains, with little seemingly soaking in.
Like Greg Brown’s song, “Canned Goods”: “Peaches on the shelf /Potatoes in the bin /Supper’s ready, everybody come on in /Taste a little of the summer, /Taste a little of the summer, /You can taste a little of the summer /My grandma’s put it all in jars …”
At summer’s end comes the harvest. The Island and the garden yield up their bounty. I find a renewed interest in the kitchen, and doing something with all this nice food. Converting to delectable or storable forms is the creative goal.
Gardeners eat like kings now. Other regions’ and cultures’ foodways seem more easily created when fresh fruits, herbs, and vegetables are available from the garden instead of expensively from the store.
I cured the garlic, onions, and potatoes as well as I could to ensure optimum storage. This season the potatoes I grew were ‘Eva’ and ‘Kennebec.’ The latter are a longtime standby for New England growers, and they did not disappoint. They are curing in a warm spot under sections of The MV Times.
‘Eva’ was less satisfying, although I am trying a second act with the core root mass of some: After digging them, I cut the tops back to about eight inches, and replanted them in deep pots with good soil. Let’s see if they resprout and grow more spuds. If so, I plan to continue topping up, adding more soil as they grow.
Newsprint is an asset in ripening and curing harvested vegetables. Tomatoes picked when just beginning to color and laid out on layers of newsprint in a cool, dark spot have a far greater chance of arriving at the table than those left to the vagaries of weather and wildlife. Wrapping dahlia clumps and winter squash individually in newspaper works well to prevent bruising and spread of spoilage organisms.
The abundance of top-setting Egyptian onions leads to utilizing them more. In addition to having a perpetual source of scallions, the bulbs are similar to shallots, but more strongly flavored, and with a long stalk.
Making pesto to freeze makes Brown’s “Taste a little of the summer” line a reality in culinary options, from salad to soup to pasta, cooked meats, and fish.
The recipe I use contains olive oil and butter; frozen, it retains its flavor better than all–olive oil recipes.
(Gourmet magazine, September 1985)
Put everything in a food processor:
4 cups coarsely chopped basil
1 cup pine nuts (substitute 1 cup sunflower seeds, or 1 cup walnuts)
½ cup olive oil
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ stick unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
salt to taste
“Island Life” mentions nine species of Island-resident frogs and toads. Heavy dewfall in gardens and on lawns encourages them to visit and hop about, causing these amphibians to be far more visible now than during hot and dry early summer days. If you have seen them in your garden you are fortunate, for their diets include snails and slugs, in addition to worms and other insects.
Another insect with the power to startle is the praying mantis, which often surprises the gardener in late summer and early fall with its stealthy, slow-motion stalking style. Watch for these now, as late summer arrives, and also watch for the mantis egg cases, which look a lot like chunks of discolored waste Styrofoam, attached to a twig or stem.
Amphibians such as toads and frogs and insects such as mantises are considered to be valuable garden allies. If you should spot one or some, your garden is fortunate; please take pains to protect them.
With harvesting comes another activity: seed saving. Leave seedheads of annuals and seed-containing fruits to mature for another year’s round of existence, remembering that hybrid varieties do not come true when saved. This is the origin of the heritage seed mystique, as it is the heritage varieties and their germ plasm that contain the genetic diversity to evolve and endure.
Dan Barber, the chef and food activist, wrote at length in this article about the shocking consolidation in seeds and germ plasm; the link is here: bit.ly/NYT_FreeTheSeed. This is a warning to recognize the pitfalls of modern agronomics. In the interval since the writing of the article we have had COVID, wars, political upheaval, inflation, and widespread drought, all of which put the microscope on how tenuous global food supplies might actually become.
Everything goes somewhere
The above leads me to mention that the condition of Island ponds and estuaries is uneasy and unhealthy. According to recent reporting in The MV Times (bit.ly/MVT_CyanoBlooms), Island ponds, the birthplace of aquatic life, are exhibiting unhealthy levels of cyanobacteria. From the article: “‘The simplest thing that we know will help is to stop using fertilizer,’” said Reddington. ‘But that has to be homeowners, that has to be landscapers, that has to be a lot of people choosing not to use fertilizer,’ she said, a potentially big ask for the Island’s landscaping and agricultural economies.”
It is fair to point out that organic agriculture and organic lawn management avoid many of these issues. Meanwhile, Massachusetts has regulations in place concerning fertilizer use (bit.ly/MASS_Fertilizers). However, based on my observation, they are widely flouted on behalf of those emerald-green lawns.