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September Kitchen

Both colanders are filled to the brim, as are my two biggest mixing bowls. The countertops are teeming as well. There are cucumbers waiting to be pickles, tomatoes waiting to be sauce, and zucchini waiting to be artfully hidden in nearly every meal I make from now until the first frost. There’s also garlic curing in the greenhouse, carrots I still need to pluck from the ground, green beans, winter squash, beets, ground cherries, and corn that still needs to be harvested.

Yes, it’s that time of year again. The time of year when we get to reap what we sow. Combines are running late into the night, tables at farmer’s markets are overflowing, and my kitchen, well, let’s be honest, is a disaster. But, it is a happy disaster!

You see, I love to garden. I started out with potted tomatoes on a fire escape in New York City, then tubs of herbs and coffee cans full of blossoms on a rooftop in Minneapolis, and now, here on the western range where sunshine and space are never in short supply, time is the only limit on what I can plant. Even when I should have been economical about space, I was always overdoing it, and that hasn’t changed now that I have as much ground to plant as I can handle.

These days, it isn’t a lack of garden space, but the short growing season that gets me in trouble. Around here, March is still very much winter. In fact, it is often the snowiest month of the year. There is something about that month that makes me think it should be spring, though. Maybe it’s chatting with friends who garden in other parts of the country. Maybe it’s my optimistic mindset. Or, maybe it’s that after February I have to allow myself a little bit of delusion. Either way, when spring fever hit this March I went a little crazier than usual. I got out the paper pots and soil and the carefully sorted seed packs and started planting. And planting. And planting.

Some years I keep track of my gardening endeavors in dimestore notebooks, some years I don’t, and most years I lose the notebooks before summer is over anyway, so the same questions always remain. How many tomato plants do I need? How many peppers? And it is always better to have too many than too few, right? The winter wind whistling through the eaves makes it impossible to imagine ever having too many sun-ripened tomatoes.

This March my spring fever was worse than usual. Winter started at the beginning of October, so it somehow seemed like an early spring was guaranteed. We wouldn’t be punished by the weather gods on both sides of the season -- that would be too cruel! This was my logic anyway, and the end result was a lot of time spent in the greenhouse.

And it turned out the weather gods didn’t think it was unreasonable, even with the early onset of winter, to have spring start late; so, my seedlings and I watched many April, and then May snowstorms blanket the garden. We even watched our county’s predicted last frost date arrive during such a storm.

It was June before it was warm enough to put the majority seedlings in the ground, and then a rainy and cool summer meant everything looked green and lush, but, as the weeks passed, no actual vegetables formed. By August, the tomatoes still small, green, and hard as pebbles, I was beginning to think I would have nothing to show for the months of effort.

Thank goodness for a warm and sunny September! And that’s why I won’t complain that I’m spending every spare moment plucking fruit from vines, and dreaming of vegetables while I sleep. All’s well that ends well, especially if it ends with a kitchen full of juicy, sun-ripened tomatoes -- enough to last all winter.

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