Published 3:55 pm Thursday, September 13, 2012

Here in Virginia September is generally the garden's last hurrah.

At this point in the game, many gardeners would probably add, “Hip, hip – hooray!”

Gardens are gratifying, but they're also a lot of work.

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But now September is here (the average frost date is only weeks away) and even the casual observer can see that the idyllic days of “vine and roses” are gone.

There's no beating around the bush – there's too many weeds!

To put it bluntly, the September garden is ugly – and so are the vegetables.

Corn stalks, once proud summer soldiers, lean into the wind, their grizzled heads bowed like tired old men. Pole beans droop from the poles, their bedraggled streamers a reminder of celebrations gone by.

Definitely “has-beans!”

A handful of rotund tomatoes, bursting at the seams from too much rain (we had four inches in the rain gauge after last week's downpour) hide their girth in a tangle of vines. Two rows over, a riot of morning glory vines hides a once robust patch of their cucumber counterparts.

As much as I enjoy rummaging in the fall garden, I'm always mindful that a snake, a hose, and a cucumber look very much alike amidst the weeds.

Am I willing to stick my hand into weed-covered vines for the sake of a few more jars of pickles?

You can bet your gherkins I am!

It all goes back to the canning gene I inherited from my Grandmother James. In other words, whenever the garden says, “I can't” – I can.

I actually enjoy September canning. With the rush of the summer garden over I can be creative.

It's time to make end-of-the-garden relish, pickled beets and green tomato catsup.

And so, like my grandmother before me, I spend quite a few fall evenings in the company of Mr. Ball and Mr. Kerr. Together we waltz across the kitchen floor from picking basket to sink to stove, sometimes until late in the night. It's moonlighting to a slice-chop-dice tempo, and the beat goes on until the last beet is tucked away for the winter months ahead.

The late hour only adds to the mystique of the process. There's good reason to call it moonlighting – the moon is often peeking through my kitchen window as I work. By the time the canner huffs its last steamy breath the moon has already climbed over the barn and is heading west.

I decide to follow suit.

Setting the jars on the counter to cool I step outside to enjoy a little cool off myself.

A playful breeze skips up the hill and ruffles the treetops. All through the woods sleeping giants seem to rouse, bowing their branches and flirting in the shadows. Peeking over a passing cloud, a handful of stars wink back.

If the “peaceable kingdom” had been sketched at night, this would be it. Yes, on nights such as this earth and universe seem to connect.

I smile at the thought.

It's a good feeling to know that I – in a very small way – have preserved a part of it.

September can be a bittersweet time for those who live close to the earth.

That's not the case for those who spend the summer “putting by.”

We have a pantry full of summer days and moonlit nights – and all winter long to savor them.