Maine Gardener: Another gardening season draws to a close
At the end of June, I was ready for the summer of 2021 to face drought again day after day.
In May and June, temperatures were high and rains infrequent. We had actually bought a new sprinkler, as I was fed up with carrying an old metal trash can out into the yard to water it, placing the trash can upside down, and then placing the sprinkler on top for each sweep. sprinkler covers over garden. The new keeps the sprinkler head up to four feet off the ground, no trash is needed.
I happened to use the new sprinkler exactly once. Then the rains came, at least along the coast where we live. I have heard from friends and readers in the interior that most of the rains never came inland. But I haven’t needed to use a sprinkler – just watering cans with rainwater – since June.
The weather was strange and the plants in our neighborhood acted a bit strangely too, perhaps also in response to the unusually warm fall. The shrubs and perennials that typically bloom in the spring, and have done so well this year, produced another smaller set of blooms in late September and early October. In our yard, this included several species of viburnum and at least one iris.
What’s going on? I emailed YongJiang Zhang, assistant professor of plant physiology at the University of Maine, to ask. Fall flowers on spring-flowering plants – including wild blueberries – are increasingly common, he replied. “We don’t have a conclusion yet, but we believe this is related to unforeseen heat waves in the fall. Some plants can be confused.
In an experiment conducted by the university, some bushes of wild blueberries were artificially warmed up, he said, and they bloomed in the fall for the second time.
Our vegetable garden especially liked the weather. We started harvesting lettuce – planted in a cold frame – in April, and had asparagus in early May, well before May 15th, our usual date. The peas, the pod and shell varieties, were ready by mid-July.
The tomato harvest was strange. In early July we had Patio Delight tomatoes, the size of a tennis ball, which were, as the name suggests, delicious. Later in July, we harvested red cherry tomatoes, which we had purchased as seedlings from the Portland Arts and Technology School Plant Sale; and Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, which we bought from a local producer. We have a lot of both.
Full-sized sliced tomatoes, for some reason, didn’t perform well. We collected about eight in total. It wasn’t just me either. A friend said he normally makes gallons of sauce from his full tomatoes, but he got the same meager crop we did. Maybe the tomatoes were also confused by the weather.
Summer cucumbers and squash were plentiful, as were most of our other vegetables, such as carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes. We’ve produced more butternut squash than ever before, but the chipmunks – who have taken over our backyard – have nibbled so much that we only have about eight of them in good enough condition to store them for the winter. Fortunately, that’s about all we’ll eat, anyway.
Our apple tree produced a lot of apples, but the wildlife got most of them. They turned out to be redheads. With a brownish skin, it’s not a pretty fruit, but the three I picked and tasted were pretty good. Our peach tree also produced well, but although we covered it with a net, all the peaches were gone overnight, before they were even ripe. I blame the raccoons, but I have no proof.
The flowering gardens have been a delight throughout the year, from the bulbs that bloomed profusely in April to the still magnificent asters in mid-October. And as of this writing, the temperatures have remained warm.
Hydrangea flowers were also large and abundant. The arborescens and paniculata varieties which are reliable bloomers performed even better than normal. The surprise was that the ‘Endless Summer’ macrophylla varieties, which are often disappointing in gardens in Maine, produced better than I have ever seen them.
So overall the garden has done its job this season, despite the temperamental weather. He gave us food, flowers, and most importantly, entertainment.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer who gardens in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]