It’s crazy warm for October, with no frost in sight. This record warmth brings tropical storms and hurricanes, muted fall foliage colors, and some questions as to what the gardens will do in this extended season. Will we still be picking tomatoes and cutting hay at Thanksgiving? By now our corn usually would be a distant memory, stalks pulled and fed as treats to the neighbor’s cows, but the ears keep ripening and we keep harvesting. We’d still be picking tomatoes if we hadn’t made an emergency trip to Florida and pulled all the plants, thinking we’d return to frost fields, not days with temperatures in the high seventies.

Usually we’d be making sauce and roasted tomatoes as the season went along, but faced with a pile of ripe tomatoes and only one day to put them away for future use, I froze them raw and whole. All the ripe tomatoes were washed and rinsed under the faucet, then dried with paper towels. After washing, I cut away the stem and surrounding area and popped the whole tomatoes into ziplock bags, stacked the bags on cookie sheets and put them in the freezer. When I’m ready to use them I can remove the quantity I need from the freezer and run them under warm water in the kitchen sink, after which the skins should slip off easily.

The unending summer makes it hard to know when to plant garlic. Usually, mid-October is about the right time to plant garlic in this area, about four weeks before the ground freezes. The idea is to have the roots grow for a couple of weeks before soils freeze. Planting too early in the fall could induce leaf sprouting, even with a heavy straw mulch. A little sprouting is probably okay, but if sprouts emerge too far from the soil, a severe cold snap could injure them.

There’s also the problem of where to store seed garlic before planting. Garlic performs best if the planting stock is exposed to temperatures between 45 and 50 degrees for about two weeks before planting. Stock that has not experienced enough cold before planting will produce bulbs with more but smaller cloves and with an increased tendency to double cloves. So storing the stock in a woodshed or similar cold structure is a good idea, but it’s difficult to even get a few nights with cooler temperatures. If you have a root cellar where temperatures drop into the fifties, that will work.

The warm weather is also a problem for those in the Christmas wreath business. In Maine, millions of wreaths are made each year, usually from balsam fir tips, which can be harvested only during late fall, after needles are “set.” The tips would shed their needles in a very short time if harvested before this stage, and brown, naked wreaths would be the end result. As a general rule, tips can be harvested after 20 cumulative days on which the temperature has dropped below 40 degrees, or after a minimum of three consecutive 20-degree or colder nights have occurred after November 1. Daytime temperatures this October have been in the high sixties and low seventies, and with no below-freezing temperatures forecast for the entire month, it’s looking pretty grim for anyone wishing to start cutting brush or making wreaths. In fact, most of November is forecast to remain warm, with no nights dropping into the twenties until around Thanksgiving.



Not all is dire during this very warm autumn. The sunny days are perfect for visiting the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, where, in addition to the extended bloom time of September flowers, there are traditional fall activities to enjoy. Children can take part in cider pressing, learn the basics of making this favorite drink and sample the fruits of their labors in the Children’s Garden from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. through this Saturday. They can also benefit from the Great Pumpkin Giveaway. During the last week of CMBG’s season, October 23 through October 31, pumpkins are free for the taking and visitors can choose one to take home and enjoy for Halloween.

The warm weather hasn’t in any way halted the onslaught of the pumpkin-spice juggernaut, which started in late summer, rushing the season in the same way that retailers rush to put Valentine stock out as soon as Christmas goods are disposed of. This move to flavor any and all comestibles with cinnamon and nutmeg is like a terrible accident that I can’t turn away from. The original beverage, pumpkin spice latte, has become such a staple that the start of its serving season seems to begin whenever its marketing geniuses decide it’s most opportune. There is seemingly no end to the victims of its flavorings. How about pumpkin spice yogurt pretzels? Or pumpkin spice flavor dog treats, pumpkin spice Greek yogurt, sparkling pumpkin spice beverage, pumpkin spice kombucha and kale chips and pumpkin spice bagels. But there are winds of change blowing through the marketing world: On September 22 (aka the first day of fall), Starbucks unveiled its maple-pecan latte, with competitor Dunkin’ Donuts (the geniuses behind pumpkin spice) debuting its own maple-pecan coffee drinks. Of course, New Englanders have long been fans of maple flavor, thanks to syrup’s presence at the breakfast table, but must we look forward, pumpkin-spice-style, to maple-pecan-flavored Oreos and cereal, dog treats and yogurts? It’s enough to make one dread the onset of autumn, warm or chilly.