By John Mattingly
Shutting down a garden is like saying goodbye to a good old friend who visited for the summer, a friend who challenged you, fed you, worked you, taught you the upside of patience and sharpened your powers of observation and contemplation.
You knew the friend had to leave, but in the course of the season you tossed that onto the compost heap. It seemed the friend would always be there, connecting body and soul through Earth and sun.
As the end of September approaches, a gardener becomes attentive to the cool feel of the morning air, and takes measures to keep the friend around a while longer, and makes an effort to preserve the friend’s bounty to bring light to the dark days of winter.
In the Valley, frost-free days after mid-September are a gift, even though the heat units are few. Many nights the temperature drops to 33 degrees and then bounces up to 60 in the first hour of sun. This can be good for curing some crops, but inevitably reminds us that our friend is packing up, getting ready to go.
One consolation is that much of the work of a garden continues in all seasons: working with the aftermath and thinking about rotation and expansion options for next year.
One of the farmers I learned a lot from in my youth asked me, “When does next year begin?”
Thinking it was a simple calendar question, I said, “January first.”
He put a rough, gnarly hand on my shoulder. “Son, next year starts right now, in the fall of this year.”
He went on to explain that the way you treat your stubble and your ground in the fall makes all the difference next spring.