The equinox is past, and we\’re careening towards the solstice. A delicately-nurtured turkey has been ordered from a nearby farm–my quick-and-easy contribution to the Thangsgiving meal that my descendants will prepare.
But my hens celebrate Thanksgiving on a different schedule, sometime between the Canadian and the U.S. holidays. Like ours, their day of gratitude does not have a fixed date. It happens just before or just after the first frost, on the day when I, breathing stertorous sighs of relief, finally put the garden to bed.
I normally take frost warnings with a grain of salt, given the near-Floridian microclimate behind our house. But this year I heeded the Vermont Public Radio weather prophet and, as the wind picked up and the temperature dropped a couple of days ago, I harvested enough green tomatoes to fill two windowsills, and a peck of peppers and eggplants.
It\’s a good thing I did, because the next morning, with the temperature at 25F, all the nightshades–tomatoes, peppers and eggplants–which had thrived in our hot and dry Mediterranean summer had perished. That gave me permission to bring the 2012 garden to an end.
The tomato stems were withered, but plenty of tomatoes–some green, some tiny, some cracked–were still clinging to them. I cut the stems, trying to save every last fruit, untangled them from the tomato cages and threw the lot over the fence into the chicken yard. Although inside the coop they will let me pick them up and hold them in my arms, the hens, dear inflexible critters that they are, fled as I dumped the tomatoes into their domain.
This was followed by a forest of eggplants, with finger-long fruits and flowers still attached. Normally, I rejoice if I get half a dozen eggplants in a given summer. But this year I have eaten and roasted and frozen and given away pounds of eggplants, the long skinny Japanese ones that melt in your mouth.
Then came the broccoli, twelve stalwart plants that had been producing non-stop since June. As I yanked them out I saw that the dirt under them was covered with mushrooms. For a moment I thought, surely nothing deadly could possibly grow from my home-made compost, under my holy broccoli? Putting aside that thought, I dragged the broccoli trees one by one to the chicken yard.
By then the hens had figured out that this was their last hurrah before the long winter of laying pellets and coffee grounds, and were going after those tomatoes and artisanal eggplants. They will peck at the broccoli for the next couple of weeks, until nothing is left but the barely-green skeletons. Their Thanksgiving lasts longer than ours.
While they feasted I cleared a couple of beds and planted the garlic I had gotten from a couple of garlic priestesses at the Bennington Garlic Festival. If all goes well, by next summer I should be able to furnish my own booth at the Garlic Festival. (Check this blog for Garlic Giveaways!)
But you should not conclude from all this that summer is really over. Yesterday, while geese were honking overhead, I saw the male bluebird, his colors looking muted, sitting on the roof of his abandoned house. He banged into our window again and then perched on the apple tree. I wish he, and the still-flourishing kale and chard in the garden, would get the message and depart, and let me get on with winter already.