The notorious first freeze

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If it hasn't happened yet in your neck of the woods, the first freeze is looming. It's either the ruination of summer, or a blessing at the end of summer, I go back and forth depending on the year. But in my most recent gardening years, I have come to firmly believe it is a blessing at the end of summer. It’s when, after a no-rest marathon beginning in February with starting seeds inside, planting seedlings and cold weather seeds in March and April, finally setting out the leggy tomatoes and peppers in May — because in the depths of winter and your craving for spring, you started the seeds too early — and harvesting, weeding, mulching and canning in June, July, August and September, you can finally anticipate a rest.

When my garden was smaller, my husband and I religiously covered everything if the weatherman predicted even the slightest possibility of a freeze. We couldn't stand the thought of losing our hard-earned crops in one mid-September freeze only to be followed with three weeks of warm weather and sunshine. However, I learned something by dragging out all those towels and sheets and old curtains; three more weeks of sunshine and warm weather at the end of September and beginning of October — before we finally gave into nature and let the freeze kill off the garden — produced approximately 1.7 more ripe tomatoes and not much else. It was more work than it was worth.

Over time, as our garden morphed into the oversized produce department that it is today, I’ve wised up — or given in. I prefer to think I became one with nature, accepted and began to understand the benefits of living seasonally and allowed the freeze to happen while leaving my mouth-watering Cherokee Purple and Sun Gold tomatoes unprotected.

LINDSEY APARICIO
  • Lindsey Aparicio

I now relish the rest that will follow. No more tending to the garden means no more fresh produce — except for the kale that will keep producing until November — but it means a break. A break AFTER the canning is finished, that is.

At this point, you should be semi-convinced that the first freeze should actually be celebrated. That’s good; you’re transitioning into an appreciation of the cycles of nature.

The day before the first freeze, assuming you know it's coming, scramble around in the garden picking every last vegetable, ripe and unripe. Although your plants will perish, don’t dare let all of your marathon gardening be consumed by Mother Nature. Let her have the plants, not the fruits.

After you finish the backbreaking work of the final harvest (and give thanks for the hands that spend all day every day picking the produce you buy in the grocery store) you’ll have every basket and bowl you own overrun with vegetables.

Over the next few days, let some of the unripe vegetables ripen while you savor some of the fresh and ready-to-be-eaten. The rest must be dealt with, quickly, unless you want a household full of fruit flies happy to help with the breakdown of your summer's bounty.

Can it, dry it, freeze it, cook it, and enjoy it. In January, when you pull out a jar of homemade tomato sauce, you’ll be thankful you worked to put everything up in the few days after the freeze.

Here are a couple of tips for your tomatoes and zucchini:

1. If you're not ready to use your tomatoes now, wash them and freeze them whole. When you are ready to use them, thaw them; the skins will come right off and the pulp will separate easily from the seeds.

2. Grate all of your zucchini and freeze it in 1-3 cup portions — depending on how much your favorite recipe calls for. Over the winter, thaw it batch by batch to make zucchini bread, soup, fritters, or pancakes.

3. Leave all of your green tomatoes out on the counter in a basket. Over the next few weeks, most of them will ripen at room temperature.

Lindsey is a city girl turned urban farm girl. She and her family are the proud stewards of a few milking goats, a lot of working chickens, an organic garden and a budding orchard. Just around the corner is the city. But she, and her farm, are hidden by the rocks. Follow her on Twitter (@goatcheeselady) and FaceBook (The Goat Cheese Lady) or visit her website (thegoatcheeselady.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Lindsey at: thegoatcheeselady@gmail.com.

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