I’ll cover these beets with a tunnel to extend their season. (Mary Lowther photo)

I’ll cover these beets with a tunnel to extend their season. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Fall is the garden’s downhill run

That brief season of sensory bliss when we can taste the literal fruits of our labour

By Mary Lowther

I once had occasion to cycle through Nanoose, over a hill that rises from sea level to a peak and then drops back again. It occurred to me at the time that, while I travelled the same distance in both directions, a lot more time and effort had been spent tediously pedalling up than coasting down, rather like life itself. Our brief moments of ecstasy come after years of work and are over far too soon. Another thing I discovered while long distance cycling is that it allows my subconscious too much free time; the monotony of repetitive action encourages the mind to wander.

Lately I have been doing a lot of weeding and it occurred to me that gardening is comparable to cycling in many ways. It is easier with good equipment, more enjoyable when it isn’t raining and there’s a long uphill grind to the harvest, that brief season of sensory bliss when we can taste the literal fruits of our labour, picked at the perfect moment. The cyclist is at the mercy of the Department of Highways, the grower depends on the weather, but that’s where the analogy breaks down. There are things wise gardeners can do to enjoy the literal fruits of their labour as long as possible.

An obvious place to begin is to plant in stages, taking advantage of early and late ripening varieties and the vagaries of the season, a process that is obviously planned and executed early on. Even so, there are other things we can do to further extend our enjoyment of fresh produce. Some plants already growing may give us a few more weeks of harvest and others may ripen fruit more quickly when protected from cool weather. I find that root crops like carrots and beets continue to grow under plastic tunnels during this time of year, while warm weather crops like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers will produce more ripe fruit because the tunnels keep the temperature up to prevent freezing for a while.

Thus far I have only used clear plastic for these, but wonder if spun cloth cover like Reemay would work. To make a tunnel I used a rented bender to bend metal tubing into arcs that span my three-foot wide bed, holding them in place with short lengths of rebar hammered into the ground. I drape clear plastic over the tubing and hold the sides down with long lengths of rebar, then gather the ends together to tie down with stakes or hold down with bricks. A layer of plastic won’t keep these plants warm forever but it should buy a week or two of the fresh taste we work all year for.

Warm weather crops on trellises require a bit more thought. Since I have seen no blight on tomatoes up here, I planted them on an uncovered trellis. To encourage ripening of fruit already set, I’ll nip off the growing tips, take the trellis down, lay the plants on a layer of straw and cover them with a plastic tunnel. I haven’t done this with cucumbers but suspect it would also work for them. Those extra weeks of harvest can mean a significantly longer and more mature crop, but keep an eye on the weather; on hot days the temperature can rise quite high and the tunnel should be opened for ventilation.

This is the season of the downhill run; let’s make it last as long as possible. Any readers with another method are encouraged to send it to mary_lowther@yahoo.ca, assuming you can’t corner me in the grocery store. Either way, I need all the help I can get.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.