September: the most dangerous month, outside of June, for gardeners. Yes, in June we can get freezes into the second week of the month, and then the next day temperatures could be in the 90s.
But at least in June, or any other planting month, you can always go back in and replant if need be. A tomato plant, no matter how painful and expensive it may be, can be replaced and replanted immediately. However, a tomato plant full of oh-so-close-to-ripe fruit that goes through a freeze in September cannot be replaced.
Tomatoes and peppers make this month even more challenging in that when temperatures get below 50 degrees, lycopene and ethylene (the plant hormones that stimulate ripening) can slow down or stop. So when we have consecutive nights below 50 degrees those unripe fruits may never turn red. Even that squash plant that has produced more fruit than you ever thought possible (some of which may be the size of your lower leg) will succumb to a light frost.
Blessed be the root crops, as they use the thermal mass known as the ground, to keep them snug throughout the late summer and into early autumn.
But the garden wouldnt be a garden if it werent for at least one conundrum.
All those apple trees that are laden with fruit need a few cool (or cold) nights to set their sugars. This year, if you havent noticed, is a little goofy. Apples seem to be maturing and turning red a couple of weeks before they usually do. That is most likely because of the warm and dry periods throughout the spring and summer, as the trees become stressed and move to complete the fruit life cycle as quickly as possible. All of this in expense of flavor, as the tree doesnt care about how it tastes to us.
For those of you who have had a successful garden or fruit tree and you want to share the bounty, we have a couple of options for you. While we may have missed the apricot/cherry window early on, we are still willing to take your excess fruits and vegetables on two different occasions.
Project Produce Bounty will occur next weekend at the La Plata County Fairgrounds as we will be accepting donations of fresh fruits and vegetables from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 14-16. The produce will become part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Commodity Distribution and will provide an opportunity for many folks to eat locally grown food.
I know that parting with that tomato that took so much work to grow can be a challenge. But do you remember what it was like when you bit into one of those fruits? That experience must be shared.
We will also be part of the fifth annual Homegrown Apple Days from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 14 at Buckley Park in Durango.
Our plan is to pick at least 4,000 pounds of apples the day before. If you have an apple tree that tends to produce a lot of fruit that goes to waste (or feeds the resident bears), let me know and we will do everything in our power to harvest that fruit and put it to a great use. Because every apple, every tomato and (yes, Elena) every potato, deserves a thankful stomach.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.