LIKE A LOT of guys, I consider myself a cold, unfeeling type, a hard case. Farewells don't, as a rule, affect me. I can send a middle-schooler flying off to the Orient, or a teen-ager off to college, or a spouse off to the mall, and not shed a tear. But saying goodbye to the garden almost makes me cry.It is hard. It signals the end of the growing season and the end to hours of mindless puttering. What am I gonna do? How am I gonna measure my progress without peppers to pick, tomatoes to harvest and eggplants to thump?
Last Saturday I headed to my plot in the community garden in Druid Hill Park armed with the conviction that it was time to pull up roots and call it quits.
Then I got there and saw the new shoots on the peppers, a few new cherry tomatoes, and a surprise pumpkin, and I lost my resolve. We'll keep things going a little longer, I told myself.
Nature is not so sentimental. All it will take is a serious frost to lay the garden low. The stretch of cold weather that is moving in this weekend seems to be a harbinger, a foreshadowing that cold days and dead vegetables are a comin'
Mindful that the frost will come, last week I began my long goodbye to the garden. I performed triage on the tomato plants. I yanked the ones that looked like they had expired. I comforted the ones that looked like they were headed in the dead direction. And I watered the ones that looked like that they might still have some spunk.
The question of what do you do with your dead tomato plants is one I struggle with. There seem to be two camps of thought - the born-agains and the funeral-pyrers - that dominate debate on the subject. The born-agains believe in chopping up the plants and tossing them into an aromatic, steaming heap known as the compost pile. Over time, the chopped-up plants will decompose and be returned to the garden as feed for the next generation of vegetables.
I have considered composting, but have been stopped short by a commandment of organic gardening. Namely, thou shall not compost unhealthy plants. Apparently sick plants pass along their maladies to the soil even after they have been composted. Composting, it seems, is for pure plants, and mine are sullied sorts, weakened by blight.
The funeral-pyre camp believes in burning the dead. My dead tomato plants would, no doubt, make a good bonfire. But open burning is banned in Baltimore and most urban environs. So like the characters in a scene from the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," I haul out my dead and dump them in a way station near the community garden set aside for spent vegetation.
I am not sure where the dead plants end up. But I like to think they are burned at the BRESCO energy-producing incinerator on Russell Street. Somehow the image of ashes to ashes, Better Boys to steam, is comforting to me.As I prepared the garden for its demise, I took stock, evaluating the performances of various plants.
The sunflowers were a dramatic, crashing failure. They shot up like a high-rise apartment building, blocking light, dominating the landscape. Then a summer storm swept through and the sunflowers came down faster than the Broadway Homes in East Baltimore.
The mint was persistent, at times "in your face." It reminded me of Al Gore. The horseradish plants, tall and hollow, reminded me of George W. Bush.
The tomatoes were fat, slow to ripen. They did not have to struggle much this summer, thanks to the abundant rain, and as a result they were softer than normal and lacked character.
The peppers have been quiet. But now, as autumn softens the sun, they might be rallying.
As I stood in the garden last Saturday I could see football and soccer teams playing in distant parts of the park. These games had replaced the softball and baseball contests of the summer. The change of sporting teams was another reminder that the garden was almost gone.
I was tempted to yank out everything; even the promising peppers, and leave. But instead of "adieu," I opted for "see ya later," and let the garden, and my hopes, linger for another week.