AROUND THIS TIME OF YEAR, I have a difficult decision to make. Should I pull out the summer plants and start the fall garden or keep harvesting the summer garden for a while longer? It’s true that many of the plants are past their prime, but I’m a little too sentimental about them. After all, we’ve had about a six month relationship. So it takes some real will power to do the right thing.
It’s easy to start to feel a little too attached considering that you start your plants as babies and pick the best of the bunch and gingerly transplant them into your garden. But the nurturing doesn’t end there. Next comes the watering, covering, top dressing with compost, pruning and waiting patiently for their fruit to ripen.
Once the fruit begin to ripen, there’s a flourish of production and sometimes in as little as two weeks, it’s over. When you look at it time wise, it hardly seems fair.
The promise of a second wind
Of course, some vegetables hold out the promise of a second wind, as if to say, if you keep me around I’ll do it all over again. Some, like green beans or June bearing strawberries, actually do get a second wind, but it’s never as much as the first wave. In most cases, plants that are past their prime should be sent to the compost pile because it isn’t worth it.
Of course, it’s okay to keep less than productive plants around if you’re not planning on growing a fall garden or cover crop. But for the rest of us, it means valuable growing time lost.
Still, after having a plant around for as much as 180 days, I find it difficult to end the relationship. Don’t even get me started talking about when farm animals are past their productive lives — that, of course, is even more difficult. I even have difficulty taking out the zucchini when there are just a few fruit to harvest.
I have a special place in my heart for this year’s zucchini plants. I was able to keep them safe from squash borer and they produced a ton. My fridge is full of squash. More zucchini than I could eat for weeks and weeks. Still, I found it very hard to remove the plants that have given me so much, even if I’m losing growing time for my fall lettuce.
I must admit, it isn’t just the super successful plants that I don’t want to give up on. I even find it hard to end the relationship when a plant does badly from the start. I’ve got two pitiful eggplant plants in my garden right now that don’t even have any fruit on them. I know better than to keep them around, but lack the will power.
Summer mistakes, fall success
One of the key thoughts in Elliot Coleman’s book Four-Season Harvest is if a planting doesn’t work out, take it out, apply some compost and plant something else. Don’t fret about it. Your only concern should be if there’s enough growing time before the frost. For Coleman, frost is almost never a concern even though his farm is in Maine. He uses unheated hoop houses* to extend the growing season deep into the winter.
In business this strategy is called failing faster. The premise is that one of the best ways to learn important lessons is to fail. Strange as it may sound, the more you fail, the more you learn. The more you learn, the more success you will have. Failing faster not only works in business, but it works in the garden, too.
Do you find it hard when it’s time to take out your summer garden plants? Let us know by commenting below.
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