Slowly but surely, summer is giving way to fall – or winter, really, considering Tuesday night’s forecast. From a high today of just above 90, the thermometer will plummet sixty degrees to a projected hard freeze Tuesday night, and possibly snow, too. This shockingly early first frost (it usually occurs in the first or second week of October) is on-brand for the utter debacle that is 2020, and it will likely kill all of our tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, flowers and delicate herbs. None of these plants are even close to finished for the season, so our overall yields will be cut in half, at least. It’s a terrible, heartbreaking situation for any farmer, and we’re no exception.
At the moment, though, we still have lots of blooms on the farm, and it’s fascinating to watch the flowering plants shift with the seasons. Here are a few we’ve spotted recently (see blossoms from earlier this season here and here). After Wednesday morning, all of these will have vanished.
I’d planned on tearing out the fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and replanting the bed, but when I found it covered with pollinators – and there aren’t many other flowers for them to visit right now – I decided to leave it. If we were collecting honey, I imagine it would have a lovely light licorice flavor.
I think I grow purple basil (Ocimum basilicum) more for its intense, regal appearance than for its usefulness in the kitchen. Although it’s gorgeous fresh on a tomato salad, I’ve learned the hard way that it doesn’t work well as a dried herb, since it tends to create unappetizing inky streaks in crackers and focaccia. Also called opal basil, it makes a nearly black pesto, which is…interesting from a visual standpoint. Still delicious, though! I plant it every year and dutifully save the seeds; that rich, saturated indigo color isn’t often found in a high plains desert, so it’s worth the effort.
The assorted calendulas (Calendula officinalis) we planted in the raised beds have added such eye-catching energy to the growing season. They came up in a riot of different colors, each a total surprise. I’ve had good luck saving these seeds and will hopefully do so again this year, if the strong winds we’re experiencing don’t scatter them first.
I planted borage (Borago officinalis) for the first time this year, primarily to attract bees but also because I was intrigued by these edible cucumber-flavored flowers; they’re commonly used in teas and often frozen into ice cubes for use in summery drinks. Borage flowers were long the traditional garnish for a classic Pimm’s Cup cocktail, since the plant self-seeds readily in the UK, but nowadays a thin slice of cucumber peel is typically used. I’m uncertain whether borage will self-seed in our climate, but it’s worth growing again for its lovely appearance and its pollinator appeal.
Despite the waning of summer, our zucchini plants continue to blossom. It’s probably best that only three plants are producing, as we’re inundated with zucchini! Squash blossoms tend to only be open in the cooler mornings, and more often than not, bees are spotted inside. If you’re harvesting squash blossoms for culinary use, always harvest early in the morning and check for trapped bees before you bring them into the kitchen!
Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is another plant I chose to attract pollinators, and I also plan to dry the leaves for warming winter tisanes. Anise hyssop is a perennial in the mint family, so I’m hoping we’ll see it appear of its own accord next spring; thus far, it hasn’t spread aggressively like other mints often do. It’s advertised as deer-resistant – anyone who lives with deer knows there is no such thing – but the plant was in an unprotected area and the deer didn’t touch it. Drought-tolerant, pollinator-friendly and deer-resistant? It stays, for certain.
And finally, this was also our first year with scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus). I planted these for visual appeal, and the bright flowers didn’t disappoint. Although the plants didn’t produce much in the way of edible pods, the hummingbirds adore the red blossoms, so these will be making a return appearance next year, too.
With that, we’re off to harvest everything we can and hopefully save a few things with frost blankets and tarps. We hope you spot something beautiful in your natural environment this week, friends. Take good care of yourselves.