I couldn’t even get my little nature loving daughter to help.
She took one look and said, “This is gross. Besides which, I hate beans. You’re on your own with this one, Mom.”
This from a girl that, in most cases, likes bugs. Don’t ya hate it when your loved ones abandon you in a time of need? For all that I tried to explain how noble and important organic gardening is, she wouldn’t be swayed. So much for my Tom Sawyer talent.
Nevertheless, I am all about living true to what I believe, so I was willing to spend an afternoon all alone picking little yellow hairy bugs off of holey, half eaten leaves, because it means I can feed my family fresh green beans, sans chemicals or preservatives, only hours after they have been picked.
Our garden is almost finished producing for this year, other than the tomatoes. Gardening is sad in a way, because you tend the plants and without even knowing it, you form a relationship with them. Then, suddenly, they shrivel and die, almost before you have time to say your good-byes. It seems anticlimactic for something that has served you so well and brought you nourishment and joy. There is always next year, I guess, and new plant-friendships to be made. Besides which, to be honest, when it comes to the work, I am not sorry to see an end to this project. Living in tune with the seasons makes every month feel new and different. I love that. so, I am ready for some cold weather so I will come indoors and do more writing for awhile. I didn’t get that degree for nothing, even though I’ve enjoyed a break from writing work.
It was a dismal year for gardening – partially because we missed much of the term when most of the pivotal planting and preparation for a garden has to be done, and partially because of the bad weather. We were working with some serous obstacles. We had to be in Florida four times during April and May (planting season.) I bought strawberry plants twice, and both times they died in the garage while we were unexpectedly called down to Flex for last ditch efforts to iron out the mess. We bought seeds and all kinds of herbs that didn’t make it into the ground due to an impromptu trip too. Frustrating. Then there is the fact that Georgia had a late frost, followed by a drought, so everyone agrees it’s been a bad year for gardeners. That, at least, alleviates my feeling totally incompetent as a beginner veggie planter.
Some of our efforts fell flat for no explainable reason. We planted cantaloupes and the plants flourished and flowered, the bees had a feast, but nary a melon grew. Humm…. Don’t know why. We planted corn, and it’s coming up now, but it is sort of skinny compared to our friend’s corn and has a few worms. I’ll pick bugs, but I draw the line at worms. I’ll do some organic corn gardening research on that one for next season. All our carrots and beets went kaput too. We think the dogs dug them up before the seeds took root because we kept seeing seeds scattered on top of the soil. We’d stick them back under, but the next day, they’d be lying on the dirt again. Damn dogs.
But our squash plants proved to be overachievers! It got to a point where Kent no longer said, “What are we having for dinner, Mom?” and instead said, “What will we be having with out zucchini tonight, Mom?” I put zucchini in bread, cookies, and brownies. I sautéed it, stuffed it, and fried it. It made it into soups and blanched and froze a dozen bags of it.
Our lettuce did well – still going strong. I often walk down to the garden with a big bowl and scissors and cut lettuce for our evening salad. I mix the fresh dark green leaves with walnuts and feta cheese and it’s heavenly.
We also had a huge bean windfall. They just kept coming. Fresh green and yellow beans by the bucketful had to be harvested every third day or so. I was up several nights till 11:00 blanching and freezing beans so we will have our own garden fresh beans on the Thanksgiving table (and many other nights besides). I even tried pickling some beans – not that anyone here will like pickled beans, but I was in pickling mode and couldn’t snap out of it. We have dozens of jars of pickles now in a variety of styles – traditional dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, sweet garlic dill pickles, and lemon dill pickles (I figure, any food that gets my husband to pucker up is worth making.) We will have a taste test in a month or so to determine which recipes we like. It is not so much about the pickles as about the process, you know. And besides which, I’ve never had a pickle fest. Plenty of pumpkin fests. This will be different. Gotta try everything once
Then, there is our ….. um…… globe thing.
Here it is a week ago – it is plenty bigger now:
We thought it was a pumpkin, but it doesn’t’ seem to be turning orange. So we decided it was a watermelon, but it isn’t turning green. Humm… It doesn’t look like a gourd. It looks like a honeydew melon, but we didn’t plant those. You see, Mark decided to fill the burn pit after I burned down the forest (for obvious reasons) and when he was done, he just tossed some seeds for pumpkins, watermelons and gourds on the dirt. We didn’t expect anything to take really, but a vine did pop up out of the dry dirt, despite the drought and the fact that our hose doesn’t reach that far. It flowered. The bees visited and made such a racket you could hear them echoing inside those big flowers ten feet away. But only one globe thingy came from it. And it keeps getting bigger and bigger. We stand at the edge of that dirt pit and stare- speculating. I guess we should bring it in and cut it open, but I can’t bear to see our globe come to an end. And secretly, I’m still hoping it will turn orange and be our Halloween pumpkin.
We have learned the subtleties of Georgia planting this season, and learned about the deficiencies in our land. It is hard to be a gardening star when you don’t know your soil. So we will plow the garden under in a few weeks, and then, we plan to lime the shit out of it. Speaking of shit…… I will be moving my chicken manure and other goodies from the pasture out there too. We are expanding the size of the garden, plotting out an herb garden and other perennial areas. We have big plans for turning our half hearted attempts at growing things this year into a glorious banquet next season. Next year’s success begins now. I hope we will be plowing an area and treating it for a future vineyard too. I’m still hot for that one even though it takes a few years to get going.
While gardening is a lot of work, it is soulful, fulfilling work that feels good in every way. I have strong feelings about eating locally now, thanks to much of what I’ve been reading about health and our environment. I love the challenge of using all that free food from just beyond our backdoor. It forces me to try new recipes and learn new things in the kitchen. Mostly, I love being outside. I love sticking my hands in the dirt, and listening to the birds. I love how the guineas will wander over and eat a few bugs (anything to alleviate my task is good) I marvel at how things grow and what they look like in their natural form (which is NOT covered in cellophane at the grocery store, oddly enough). I get a kick out of walking just outside my door with an empty bowl and returning moments later with it overflowing with the makings of dinner. I even love the look of the garden. It is alive and ever-changing. Most people place a scarecrow in the midst. My neighbor hangs a dead crow from a stick (don’t ask). In our case, we set our knight in rusty armour (formerally from our Sarasota Orchid garden) out there to watch over the garden like a gallant man of honor. He seems sort of out of place, and yet he suits the enviroment perfectly and adds character. Kind of like us – former dancers plopped down in Georgia living a hybred country/artistic life .
Anyway, when our garden stopped producing enough to keep me busy, I went out to the farmers market and BOUGHT home grown tomatoes – boxes of them – to play with. I’m not about to let the season end without having my fill of kitchen exploits.
This is what I brought home this weekend (to go with the 12 tomatoes from our garden)
I made a big vat of tomato wine – which sounds horrible, but actually they say it makes a fine blush that is indistinguishable from grape blushes.
Then, I made homemade spaghetti sauce. It took me an hour just to blanch and peel this many tomatoes. Then I spent an hour squeezing those slimy suckers to get the juice out to assure a thick sauce (the juice went into the wine). Mark woke up a few hours later (I get up early for these kinds of projects – he sleeps in) He took one look at the tomato-splattered kitchen and his tomato-splattered wife, and the heaping pot of squished tomatoes, and said, “That looks like a lot of work. I sure hope it is good sauce.”
“It BETTER be. I’m making this for YOU,” I said. (Mark is always talking about how much better food is fresh from the garden and that is one of the reasons I am so enthusiastic about the “grow it and cook it” concept.
I thought when we began this idea of growing food (we talked about it the day we decided to buy 50 acres) that,(gardening genius he is) he would be out there helping to weed, pick bugs and harvest this stuff while I was on kitchen duty. I wanted to pick a bit, but thought my part would be in cooking, canning and serving the food. But it has been more of a one woman show this year. Except for the initial tilling and once time of tilling between the rows (and one day I MADE him pick beans with me) he hasn’t bothered with the garden. He has a habit of staring at the plants and saying things like, “Somebody will have to pick those bugs off by hand,” or “Somebody needs to put some food under those plants if we expect them to produce well- it’s in the garage, by the way.”
He hasn’t figured out that he qualifies as somebody yet. So far, I’ve been the family somebody. Next year, I hope somebody turns into everybody.
Where was I? Oh yeah . . tomatoes. For hours I cooked down the tomatoes with garden fresh peppers, basil, oregano, parsley, garlic etc… added red wine and red wine vinegar, salt, and other goodies. In the end I had 6 huge containers of sauce to freeze for later. I thought I should have had at least 60, but the dang things cook down so much. Anyway, I still have tomatoes from our garden to make another batch – and this pot we will eat fresh. This wholesome, organic, eating local thing is good for you, but it does take a commitment. Not that I’m complaining. It’s fun. But it is work too. Nevertheless, at meals, it’s all worthwhile. I figure a bit of pasta, some homemade sourdough bread (my other new favorite thing to make now that I have a sourdough starter gurgling in the kitchen) and some garden lettuce made into a salad and I’m the next best thing on food TV – the Little Home on the Prairie chef.
I guess it is just another way to feel grounded and connected. In a world where life has become a blur of malls and fast food and consumerism, it is nice to slow down and do something that requires peaceful effort in quiet, breezy, solitude. Eating this way, you feel cleansed – cleansed by the healthy food, and the fact that you know where it came from and what it represents. It assures everyone sits together to break bread and share fun dinner conversation too. All in all, I’m willing to tackle the little yellow bugs for that.