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Bittersweet End to the Gardening Season

November 2, 2011

The first snow flakes of the season brought surprises in my garden.

Credit: Doreen G. Howard
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The first snowflakes of the season are falling as I write this.  We avoided the October blizzard that hit the Northeast, but snow reliably falls here in the Upper Great Lakes after just Halloween.

It’s a bittersweet ritual that means the outdoor gardening season is finished until next April.  I ran around the yard earlier today, heeding the snow prediction, to harvest what tomatoes were left and cut flowers for indoor bouquets.  I found a couple surprises, too.

More Blue Tomatoes!

As I dug through a huge thicket of half-dead tomato vines, I found about three dozen blue tomatoes, very unlike the ones I harvested this summer.  These are larger, with blue and yellowskins and yellow flesh.  I believe they are a variety named 'Helsing’s Junction'—one of the four blue tomato seed types Tom Wagner sent me last spring.  Obviously, they require a very long growing season, much longer than our normal one of 110 days.  The killing frosts and freezes were late this year; last week, it finally dipped into the high 20’s.  This usually occurs around October 10.

Unlike the other blue tomatoes I grew this season, this straggler has yellow flesh and fruity flavor.

The nuanced, multi-layered flavors of this straggler are ethereal!  Fruity peach notes, off-set with dashes of lemon and salt is as accurate as I can explain the taste.  I’m saving seeds and will start plants earlier than other tomatoes next spring to get a jump on the growing season.

Green Spiders

In May, I received a gorgeous bouquet of flowers from one of my kids.  There were several green spider chrysanthemums in the mix that were absolutely stunning.  I rooted the stems and ended up with one sturdy plant, which I set out in a perennial border on July 4.  I pinched the plant twice to force branching in the following three weeks.  Due to late planting and small plant size, I thought no flowers would form this season.  Wrong!

Amongst the other mums and frost-damaged petunias, I found nine stems loaded with buds that are beginning to open.  And, they are spectacular. After I cut and put them in a vase of warm water, each flower opened and their green color appeared to deepen.

Warm water and a warm house forced the green spider mum buds open within an hour of cutting them outdoors.

I looked out the window a few minutes ago to see that wind gusts were bringing down what is left of the red leaves on the three Autumn Red maples in my yard and driving the snow.  Tomorrow, I’ll rake the leaves and shred them with the lawn mower.  They’ll be wonderful organic mulch for the veggie garden and flower beds, breaking down into organic nutrients under the snow to feed next year’s tomatoes and chrysanthemums.

Then, the snow can fly and pile up, while I plan next year’s garden.

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Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.

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Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including

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