This is the time of year when my garden is lush, gloriously overgrown, Baby Boo pumpkins climbing the asparagus fern, self-seeded cosmos tall, blushing pink, waving its feathery leaves in my face as I try to untangle the roller-coaster tomato vines plunging from their support towers to the ground and back up again, roses woven with thyme, zinnias rocketing out of the cilantro, and volunteer cherry tomatoes springing up in comical places. You can’t tell the raised beds from the mulched paths because everything is knee-deep in leaf and tendril.
It is more opulent than it has been all summer, and it’s at this very moment that the first red leaf drifts down from a wild cherry tree, just to let me know that frost could come any time.
Climate change has shifted this part of Michigan from Zone 5b to Zone 6a, the average minimum temperature up a notch, and the average first frost receding a bit further into October. But those are averages, not guarantees. There are many green tomatoes still on the vines, and if I don’t want them to turn to mush I need to watch the weather forecasts and be ready to bring them indoors before a frost, while they’re still firm and whole.
I learned this the hard way, having had no experience with it in California. My first year gardening here I was into protecting them, throwing sheets over the tops of the vines to ward off the cold and keep them going. This was too hard – see above description of tangled tomato vine riot. I do have one cold frame where I grow cherry tomatoes (thank you, Doug), and I can roll the vines up into loose wreaths, tuck them in, close the lid, and harvest cherry tomatoes for a couple more weeks. The other tomatoes stayed on the vine, where indeed they turned into mush. Too sad. The next year I watched the weather more carefully, and at the critical moment gathered them up and brought them inside. There I found that they continued to ripen though off the vine. The result was not as good as the garden-ripened ones, but was still better than store-bought. Besides, they were my own little darlings!
Meanwhile, I am channeling my Texas mother’s way with fried green tomatoes. I haven’t quite re-created it yet, but with every autumn I come a little closer.