Since it finally stopped raining today, it presents a great opportunity to put our garden to bed for the year.
Last weekend I planted garlic; our only overwintering crop other than the late-planted savoy cabbages that are flourishing in the cool weather but not forming real heads, that I'm going to show mercy on by mulching with leaves for the forseeable future in an effort to at least harvest some useable pot greens or roll wrappers. The garlic, though, I planted in a raised bed; I raised it by lowering the walkway around it by about 5 inches all around. That's what the whole garden will be next year; a series of French-style raised beds, with slightly sloping sides. I double-dug the bed, amending the soil with our first homemade compost, some organic fertilizer and a few generous handfuls of crab-shell fertilizer (my personal paen to "The Deadliest Catch" -- and the crab shells are supposed to be quite beneficial for crops). I planted "Chesnok Purple" and "Music" hardnecked garlics, and filled up the last empty section with a half-dozen shallot cloves from a package I bought at the grocery store. All that's left to do is rake about 2 inches of leaves -- which are in plentiful supply now, thanks to the rain -- over the top and let Mother Nature do her thing.
My garden has been one of the most therapeutic projects I've undertaken in the past year, despite the fact that some of my experiments on this first-year plot have been abject failures. (I've thought, many a day, that it's a good thing I'm not a pioneer woman depending on the garden to keep me alive through the winter.) Gardens are good that way, because they're alive, and changing, and changeable; there's always a way to wrest some element of success, or at least wisdom, out of misfortune. They're the "Serenity Prayer" writ in green.
While failures are of course disappointing -- as was the case the other day when I dug up my little row of "Chioggia" beets, which had been crowded out (through my own fault) by potatoes and found only 2 normal-sized, useable roots -- they're opportunities for learning. I don't know why I can't apply that good sense to the rest of my life, but in the garden it seems to be a gentler lesson. Next year: more attention to spacing. I've also had great successes: Ruby-red "Mascara" lettuce that, despite frank neglect on my part, produced all season long without bitterness, only bolting at the end of last month; beans that survived flooding and chill; cutting celery, planted late, that I dried into some beautifully fragrant, tasty flakes for winter soups and stews -- definitely a crop for next year, and more of it. I found that pruning tomatoes around the bottom, keeping all the branches off the ground, and pinching out all the side shoots as they appear, really does keep the plants healthier.
So anyway: Today I pull out the tattered remains of vegetable rows and add them to the compost. I lime the soil, raking it in a little but letting the elements really work it into the ground. I mulch my garlic. And then that's it; goodbye until April. Thank you for being my classroom, my chapel, my palette.