Our very late first frost came in the early morning hours of last harvestOctober 26th.  A frost advisory can lead to much agonizing – what to cut and bring in, what to cover and leave out – but this time it was clear. Harvest everything that was left, which wasn’t much. In the shortened hours of late October daylight very little was ripening anyway. I brought in my last armload of green and part-green tomatoes, and a few last cosmos and cornflowers, which looked oddly like William Morris wallpaper as they stood in their vase.

On the chilly weekend that followed, I pulled deceased plants, collected tomato stakes, and Doug brought out boards cut to length and fitted with corner pieces, to set up one more raised bed in last flowersthe last remaining spot in the garden. He had offered to do this last spring, but I’d already planted the area in its unraised state so it had to stay as it was. Setting the bed up now would avoid timing issues next spring.

I had a warm jacket on, and a scarf, and gloves. Doug was in shirtsleeves. He did have gloves, but they were work gloves to keep splinters out of his hands. I’m not sure if he was always a polar bear, or if he became one after some number of years living in Michigan.

“This is great,” he said, “I’m not sweating.”

I like to avoid sweating as much as the next person, but we could have had another twenty degrees out there before it became a problem. Still, I was glad he wasn’t suffering as he built another garden improvement for me.

When we finished and went inside, Zerlina came over and nudged my leg. I reached down to pet her, and though she didn’t scream, she did jump and run away, only to come back and sniff my hand suspiciously. No way she was going to let me warm my hands up on her. I would have to warm them up on Doug, instead.

Quieting Down

The roar of tomatoes in the garden is dialing down to a low rumble. They ripen very slowly now, but on the positive side the squirrel has stopped eating them. I’m guessing cooler weather has inspired him to gather more walnuts and acorns, things he can stash for the winter. Mucking around in my tomatoes is all very well in late summer, but it’s October, and time to get real.

The squirrels need things to eat all winter because they’re up, out, and running around. They have this deal with the trees, where the trees give them all the nuts they can haul away, and in return the squirrels plant them in ridiculous places the trees could never have come up with on their own. The squirrels plan to dig them all up and eat them as winter proceeds, but as you’d expect from their louche and scatterbrained behavior, they lose track; thus establishing the next generation of trees.

Woodchucks, on the other hand, hibernate. I can hardly wait. Once there’s a frost, ours will tuck into her burrow and stay there, offering me relief for a few months. Until then, she is havoc incarnated. I caught her in full wallow yesterday, lazing in


tired October garden

my plumbago groundcover, scarfing down all its pretty blue flowers that she scorned just a couple of weeks ago, when there were tastier options. Would that she would scorn them now, but she is dedicated to padding out her waddly flesh so that there will be something left of it when she wakes up after her long fast.

There are still cosmos in the garden, and some zinnias, but everyone looks so tired. It’s time to take down the berry nets. It’s time to bring in the cushions. But the end of one cycle is the beginning of another. It’s time to plant bulbs.


They are slowing down as the hours of daylight decrease, but the tomatoes are still rolling in. And the squirrel, having acquired a taste for hot peppers, is still eating


bonus tomato

them. Sometimes when I stand at my kitchen window I see him out there, making free with the fruits of my labor. At first I would rush out in a rage to run him off, but eventually I realized this was useless. True, as soon as the screen door creaked he was gone in a flash; but screen door, rage, or not, once he had his three bites out of the tomato he looped off anyway. I could think of only two ways to keep him out of the garden: stay out there all the time; or put a roof over it. Not very practical.

In some years there would have been a frost by now, so I try to look at the abundance side of this situation: the tomatoes the Perp eats are bonus tomatoes; those

tomatoes of grace

tomatoes of grace

he leaves behind are tomatoes of pure grace. Even the ones I pick half green and ripen in the house in an attempt to defeat him, are way tastier than common supermarket tomatoes. Supermarket tomatoes are not bred for flavor – they are bred to withstand the shipping and handling necessary to sell them in supermarkets, as they have to be, since no one would buy them in the bruised and leaking condition a garden tomato would demonstrate when so shipped and so handled. We need to keep this in mind before we scold supermarkets. Until someone invents a tomato transporter to beam them into supermarkets directly from farms, supermarket tomatoes will continue to be bred for sturdiness.

My squirrel, who seems almost able to beam himself into the garden, appears to have been bred for persistence. Did that first tomato burn your tongue? Try another. That one too? Keep going. How can I argue with desire that will fight through the pain of fire on the tomato skin, to get to the luscious heart inside it? I’m not sure if it’s fear that motivates him to flee at the threat of my approach, or something more like taunting. He is a Siegfried of squirrels. Unless I am wrong about his gender, in which case she’s a Valkyrie.