High Noon in the Garden

carrotsa

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vegetable gardening is not for the faint of heart.  In the few short weeks of the growing season, there is all manner of botanical birth, growth, reproduction, withering and death in such ultra-compressed fashion, it can leave even the veteran gardener gasping for air.  I consider myself somewhat bold and fearless in my every day roles, as any good physician (or mother) must be, but when it comes to the facts of life as played out in the garden,  I turn all mushy.

This week there was no question what needed to be accomplished.  The sun was out,  the seeds planted a few weeks ago were finally beginning to show themselves above ground, but they were literally drowning in a sea of weeds.   The joy of germination was turning into the heartbreak of overabundant indiscriminate growth.  It was time for action.

I awoke early, emotionally preparing myself.  I pulled on my jeans and hooded sweatshirt, stepped into rubber boots,  armed my pockets with trowel and garden hook, and adopted a confident stance as I stared at the expanse of green sprouts before me.

“Gonna kill me some weeds,”  I muttered menacingly from under my straw hat, looking like Wyatt Earp at high noon, rolling up my sleeves, and hitching up my pants like a sharp shooter.

I first went to the defense of the carrot row.  Tiny carrot seedlings are some of the most vulnerable in the garden.  They start as two little grass-like shoots, very weed-like in their beginnings.  In a few days, the next shoot is the identity give-away: a feathery leaf looking very much like carrot green tops.  True effective weeding really can’t start until the carrots can be distinguished from weeds, even the look-alike frilly weeds that pretend they are carrots so they will be left alone.  Very clever camouflage, but not to my sharp eye.

The real carrots are tender little plants, barely clutching the ground with one little root string as compared to the deep hold that weeds have in the soil — weeds make a satisfying “pop” sound when successfully pulled out by the roots.  This work requires down on your hands and knees finger weeding, the dirt-under-the-nails sort-through-each-little-green-shoot-to-find-the-right-one-to-pull technique.  Even so, despite my best intentions, the “real” plants still get pulled accidentally:  my father called that “thinning”, another cruel and painful aspect of gardening when perfectly good plants are pulled out to make more space for the near neighbors.  It still seems all too arbitrary and capricious.

All this weed-o-cide makes me think about a book I read in the early seventies, The Secret Life of Plants by Tompkins and Bird.  They gave me a new understanding of the challenges of being a plant.  I almost can hear the high pitched little shrieks some scientists have recorded as plants are plucked, cut or mowed down.   Then there is the very real question of what is a weed and how it has become victim to our human prejudice about what is worthwhile to grow and what is not.  Maybe since the dawn of time we humans have watched the slugs, the squirrels, the birds, the deer and the rabbits decide what is tastier, and frankly my dear,  it isn’t the weeds.

But who am I to say that a beet plant is more worthy to exist than quack grass?   What animosity and enormous resource is expended to rid the world of the lovely dandelion’s perfect sphere of seeds about to blow with the wind, or the waxy buttercup meant to tickle a child’s chin into a yellow reflection.

But I’m only the gardener with a job to do.  It’s dirty work, but someone has to do it.

By the end of the morning as the sun beats down directly overhead, neat little rows of honest to goodness domesticated plants become obvious and the garden pathways are littered with weed carcasses as well as a few thinned radishes, beets and carrots.   High noon indeed.  I gaze at my spent weapons–dirty hands and fingertips that are barely recognizable–and sigh deeply.   Until the next skirmish to keep the weedy invaders from infiltrating, I can rest easier knowing my little plants have less chance of being overwhelmed by the encroaching wilderness of weeds and varmints.

So I lay down my arms, clean the dirt from under my fingernails, and sit down to listen to the symphony sounds of plants happily growing…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cathedral to Memory

 

transparents

 

appledylan

 

I planted an apple tree in memory
of my mother, who is not gone,
 
but whose memory has become
so transparent that she remembers
 
slicing apples with her grandmother
(yellow apples; blue bowl) better than
 
the fruit that I hand her today. Still,
she polishes the surface with her thumb,
 
holds it to the light and says with no
hesitation, Oh, Yellow Transparent . . .

they’re so fragile, you can almost see
to the core. She no longer remembers how
 
to roll the crust, sweeten the sauce, but
her desire is clear—it is pie that she wants.
 
And so, I slice as close as I dare to the core—
to that little cathedral to memory—where
 
the seeds remember everything they need
to know to become yellow and transparent.
~Catherine Essinger “Summer Apples”  from What I Know About Innocence

 

appleseeds

 

A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible. 
~Welsh Proverb

 

applesauce

 

It is at late summer and harvest time when I most clearly remember my mother – she is standing for hours at the kitchen sink peeling yellow transparent apples, readying them for sauce, and always a pie.

The apples were only part of her daily work:  she canned quarts and quarts of green beans, peeled the peaches and pears for canning, sauced the plums, pickled the cucumbers, jammed the strawberries and raspberries, syruped the blackberries, froze the blueberries, cut the kernels off the corn cobs, baked up the zucchini into breads and cakes, dried the filberts, dug and stored the potatoes,  dehydrated the tomatoes.

Over the years I’ve stood by the sink and the stove and have done what my mother used to do, usually not as well but with the same mission of preserving what I can for another day.  We have been fed from our summer labors.

I know well these trees and vines from which the fruit grows.  I plant the seeds which somehow know to produce when tended and nurtured.  I stand and peel and wash and boil and stir as this is what generations of my family’s women did before me.

May it ever be.

 

applesauce

 

rainytransparent2

Bean Snapping

beans

It’s that bean-snapping time of year again — preparing them fresh-picked for blanching and freezing, with visions of winter-time green bean casserole dancing in my head.

Bean snapping is a quintessential front porch American Gothic kind of activity.  Old black and white Saturday matinee movies would somehow work in a bean snapping scene with an old maid aunt sitting on her ranch house porch.  She’d be rocking back and forth in her rocking chair, her apron wrinkled and well-worn, her graying hair in a bun at the nape of her neck and wearily pushing back tendrils of hair from her face. As the sole guardian, she’d be counseling some lonely orphaned niece or nephew about life’s rough roads and why their dog or pony had just died and then pausing for a moment holding a bean in her hand, she’d talk about how to cope when things are tough. She was the rock for this child’s life.  Then she’d rather gruffly shove a bowl of unsnapped beans into the child’s lap, and tell them to get back to work– life goes on –start snapping. Then she’d look at that precious child out of the corner of her eye, betraying the love and compassion that dwells in her heart but was not in her nature to speak of.  If only that grieving child understood they sat upon a rock of strength and hope.

Just as I sat with my mother snapping beans some 50+ years ago and talked about some difficult things that were unique to the 60′s,  I too have sat snapping beans together with our children, talking about  hopes and disappointments and fears, listening to them grumble that I was making them do something so utterly trivial when from their perspective, there were far more important things to be doing. My response has been a loving and gruff “keep snapping”.  Of course we really don’t have to snap the beans, as they could be frozen whole, but they pack tighter snapped, and it is simply tradition to do so.  We enjoy that crisp satisfying crack of a perfectly bisected bean broken by hand–no need for knife to cut off the top and tail.    We prepare for a coming winter by putting away the vegetables we have sowed and weeded and watered and cared for, because life will go on and eating the harvest of our own soil and toil is sweet.

We must do this. Indeed it is all we can do when the world is tumbling down around us.

Truthfully, though no one wants to eat a rubbery bean, there are times I wish I would be more rubbery like a bean that won’t break automatically and is more resilient.  I have a psychiatrist colleague who I’ve worked with for years who counsels “be like a willow — learn to bend under pressure.”

There is an old Shaker Hymn that I learned long ago and sing to myself when I need to be reminded where I too must end up when I’m at the breaking point.

I will bow and be simple,
I will bow and be free,
I will bow and be humble,
Yea, bow like the willow tree.

I will bow, this is the token,
I will wear the easy yoke,
I will bow and will be broken,
Yea, I'll fall upon the rock.

As people of resilient faith we seek to wear the yoke we’ve been given to pull, bow in humility under its burden and know the freedom that comes with service to others.  Even in the midst of the most horrific brokenness, we fall upon the rock bearing us up with love and compassion.

It is there under us and we’ve done nothing whatsoever to earn it.

Time for us to get back to work and resume snapping–life does go on.

(a Barnstorming reblog)

Shedding the Earth Crumbs

beanplantA

How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,
The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.
~Robert Frost from “Putting in the Seed”

carrotsa

Caught and Stoppered

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

“Dandelion wine.
The words were summer on the tongue.
The wine was summer caught and stoppered…
sealed away for opening on a January day
with snow falling fast and the sun unseen for weeks…”
~Ray Bradbury from Dandelion Wine

Now is mid-January:

Summer is found in our dark root cellar–
in rows of canned fruit and
a pile of potatoes

Summer is found in our freezer–
containers of berries and dehydrated pears
alongside bags of pea pods, corn and beans.

Summer is found in our barn–
piles of hay bales to be opened
to release the smell, the sun, the sweat of a midsummer evening’s harvest.

 

Snapping Green Beans

green+beans

A reblog from 2006:

Our garden is now in full harvest mode.  I have just finished picking the bush beans and spent several evenings sitting and snapping them, preparing them for blanching and freezing, with visions of green bean casserole during the winter months dancing in my head.

Bean snapping is one of those uniquely front porch American Gothic kind of activities.  Old black and white Saturday matinee movies would somehow work in a bean snapping scene with an old maid aunt sitting on her ranch house porch.  She’d be rocking back and forth in her rocking chair, her apron wrinkled and well-worn, her graying hair in a bun at the nape of her neck and wearily pushing back tendrils of hair from her face. As the sole guardian, she’d be counseling some lonely orphaned niece or nephew about life’s rough roads and why their dog or pony had just died and then pausing for a moment holding a bean in her hand, she’d talk about how to cope when things are tough. She was the rock for this child’s life.  Then she’d rather gruffly shove a bowl of unsnapped beans in the child’s lap, and tell them to get back to work–life goes on–start snapping. Then she’d look at that precious child out of the corner of her eye, betraying the love and compassion that dwells in her heart but was not in her nature to speak of.  If only that grieving child understood they sat upon a rock of strength and hope.

Just as I sat with my mother snapping beans some 40+ years ago and talked about some difficult things that were unique to the 60′s,  I sat snapping beans this week together with my family, talking about  hopes and disappointments and fears and listened to our children grumble that I was making them do something so utterly trivial when from their perspective, there are far more important things to be doing. My response is a loving and gruff “keep snapping”.  Of course we really don’t have to snap the beans, as they could be frozen whole, but they pack tighter snapped, and it is simply tradition to do so.  We enjoy that crisp satisfying crack of a perfectly bisected bean broken by hand–no need for knife to cut off the top and tail.    We prepare for a coming winter by putting away the vegetables we have sowed and weeded and watered and cared for, because life will go on and eating the harvest of our own soil and toil is sweet.  We must do this. Indeed it is all we can do when the world is tumbling down around us.

Truthfully, there are times when I would prefer to be more rubbery like a bean that doesn’t snap automatically under pressure and is more resilient.

There is an old Shaker Hymn that I learned long ago and sing to myself when I need to be reminded where I must end up when I’m at the breaking point.

I will bow and be simple,
I will bow and be free,
I will bow and be humble,
Yea, bow like the willow tree.

I will bow, this is the token,
I will wear the easy yoke,
I will bow and will be broken,
Yea, I'll fall upon the rock.

As people of resilient faith we seek to wear the yoke we’ve been given to pull, bow in humility under its burden and know the freedom that comes with service to others.  Even in the midst of the most horrific brokenness, we fall upon the rock bearing us up with love and compassion.

It is there under us and we’ve done nothing whatsoever to earn it.

Time for us to get back to work and start snapping–life does go on.

When “Eating Local” Means the Backyard

tomatojpg

Taking stock of what is  on the dinner table, I realize it almost all originated on our farm, from start to finish.  This surely doesn’t happen every night but when it does, it is cause to celebrate.  As good as farm raised food is, it is the antithesis of “fast” food; this is very very “slow” food when one considers the long process of getting it to the table.

Thanks to our family’s hard work over the years,  we have eaten home raised chicken and beef, potatoes from the potato patch, corn,  tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, brussels sprouts, salad greens and carrots from the garden, applesauce made from the windfalls of a Gravenstein tree, and sweet juicy plums for dessert.  Even the filbert nuts are drying and getting ready to eat for a night time snack along with the sweet dessert grapes from the arbor. The wild blackberries are hanging thick now and begging to be picked for cobbler tomorrow.   It can start sounding all Martha Stewart-y except the reality is far less glamorous and romantic than she portrays in her glossy magazines.  I’m not sure how many chickens she’s butchered and plucked at home.   She doesn’t look like someone who digs into manure piles for the most composted stuff to dress her artichoke plants.  I’ll bet she doesn’t milk her own goats either.   But I know she carves her own pumpkins and they are much more artistic than anything I could ever create from the monstrosities I have growing up the hill.

The “Eat Local” campaign happening all over the country is meant to decrease the distance food must travel to our tables, to prevent spending resources sometimes far greater than what the food took to grow to begin with.  Eating fresh grapes from Chile or apples from New Zealand in the middle of winter is amazing when you really think about it, but they don’t give us nearly the same satisfaction as the raisins and dried fruit we have made from our own arbor and orchard.  Hot house tomatoes from Holland just don’t measure up to the sun dried tomato slices we’ve preserved in the freezer. Our farm critters have not had to leave the farm; they were less stressed and so are we.

Not everyone has the space or climate to raise fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs and milk for their own consumption, so I realize we are truly blessed to steward this patch of earth. Support for the local growers and farmers’ markets brings healthy affordable foods to the table.  Maybe there are a few more blemishes and a little less polish, but the flavor is exquisite and the source is known rather than mysterious.

Celebrate the “slow” food that good farmers are growing right around the corner, and perhaps, in your own backyard.  It is well worth the wait.