harvesting time

I am ready to put my garden to bed. I have been for awhile.

Tuesday I pulled the corn stalks and tossed them onto the compost heap. The last of the potatoes saw sun weeks ago. My tomato vines are plump with fruit that stubbornly refuses to turn red. Cracks have begun to split the tops of the few that have elected to ripen. Winter storms have given them more water than they can handle.

I continue to pull carrots from rows I planted four months ago. Half are perfectly straight, the rest resemble disfigured hands with fingerlike tips that grip the earth. They taste the same either way.

We pressed apples last week. I gathered five shopping bags from the refrigerator and another two from the backyard. I have just enough left to make a few pies for Thanksgiving. I never did find a proper use for the pears. A few will become hard cider. The rest are rotting on the tree.

The beets continue to impress me months after the first harvest, however, the parsnips never really matured. They never had a chance. Once the peas sharing their bed had come and gone the parsnips didn’t have enough time in the sun to figure out their purpose. I guess it is hard to grow in somebody else’s shadow. I had envisioned coating them in olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasting them in the oven. Now, I will be satisfied if we get one side dish before winter. And it is coming soon.

It snowed on the mountaintops last week. The peaks of the Wellsvilles remain hidden under a coating of white that will last until July. I expect the first frost in the valley will soon follow. This weekend I will turn the soil in the boxes that are empty. The garden needs time to rest and prepare for future growth. And so do I.

Lately, I am trying to be where I am so I can own my place in this sometimes strange corner of the world where people rent movies out of red boxes parked outside McDonalds, everyone seems to drive the biggest car they can afford, and there are no drink specials allowed.  Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes I catch myself thinking: I wonder where we will go next …

The garden was a good exercise in committing myself to the backyard and the seasons that force it to constantly change. It made me to show up every day to nurture new growth and notice the new pests determined to eat it. Now I just need to apply this to my writing.

Gardening taught me to celebrate small victories—like the first time I saw a green onion break the topsoil and the day I discovered slug bait. It also gave me purpose on the days when I wasn’t really sure what I was doing here besides making sure the weeds didn’t put roots down.

As new seedlings appeared I learned the importance of thinning. In essence, this means you select which plants will receive your resources, and which will wind up at the top of the compost pile. You do this to optimize energy. You do this to give the plants you chose to keep the best chance to thrive.  Because everyone needs a little room to breathe and a little place to stake claim to. Otherwise they grow inward and misshapen.

Of course there are things I will do differently. For instance, this winter I will actually plot out the garden months ahead of planting season. And then do the math to make sure my design doesn’t just look pretty on paper.

I will plant vegetables in quantities that make sense for two people – or for two people and the friends they can push their bounty onto. I will kill grasshoppers much earlier in the summer and not just think they are visiting the garden to admire my handiwork. (They aren’t.) I will know to build a trellis for the peas. I will not be surprised when people ask if I remembered to hill my potatoes. (I didn’t.)

Perhaps most importantly, next spring D wants to plant hops and barley so we can make our own beer. I can’t think of a better use of our front lawn.

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