When I was writing Farmer Bear’s Garden I tried to be as realistic as possible about growing a garden, but certain liberties had to be taken. You have a young audience, a limited word count and you want to tell the most interesting story possible. That’s why in the book, the bears harvest their whole garden in one day. Everything is ready at once and they pick it all and they’re done.
In real life, however, depending on what you grow, vegetables and flowers are ready all throughout the growing season, starting (in my climate) from March for flowers and about June through October for vegetables. There are slow periods but usually there is something to pick or admire.
However, all good things have to come to an end. Here in the Chicago area, you always know at some point it’s going to get below freezing and that will definitively mean an end to the growing season until next spring. But the tricky time is right now (I write this on October 19), when it isn’t yet consistently cold but is often flirting with frost and freezing temperatures overnight.
At times like these, what I struggle with is knowing when it’s time to let the plants go. Many of them have long been done, but some are still chugging along, and I have flowers that seem to be just hitting their stride. I planted a second crop of peas and they are still lush and covered with blooms. My strawberries are continuing to produce. And my zinnias and marigolds look like they could still keep going for months if only the weather would cooperate.
So how do I know when we’ve reached the point where it’s no longer worth it to try to save them? If there’s one cold night I can try to move things that are in pots under cover or put sheets over the flowers, but at some point it’s not going to be worth the effort any more. The fear is that there’s one cold night that kills everything, followed by three or four more nice weeks.
It’s hard to look at all those unopened buds on the flowers, unripened strawberries and unfilled-in pea pods and know their potential will never be fulfilled. I was sad when a little sunflower started growing from the seeds that had fallen from my plants, knowing it would never have a chance to grow up. Is it worth it to try to put it in a pot and grow it inside? Of course that’s not really practical – a 10-foot-tall flower in the family room. But that nurturing instinct makes me want to try to save them all.
I know I’m going to have to let them go soon. But it’s hard to say goodbye. Once they’re gone, it’s a barren, bleak six months until green life returns. That’s why we hold on as long as we can.