The sun's ascension is a visual reminder of the perpetual passage of time. On rainy mornings like this one, when the sun's cue is invisible to the eye, there are other indicators of time and change, less immediate but no less inevitable.
Apples are bigger on the trees, berries grow red, acorns nest in clusters in the darkened leaves of summer oak, blackberries clustered behind the garage beg to be delivered to the breakfast table. And the fruits of our vegetable garden begin their usual pattern of oversupply.
I love my husband's enthusiasm, even when I'm harvesting bushels of green tomatoes from his 20 tomato plants in advance of a fall frost. I think maybe he hopes that some day I will become a canning, peeling, preserving kind of New England wife. I don't think that's going to happen (J probably doesn't either, but there's always hope). More likely he hopes that HE will find the time to tend and store enough vegetables to feed the neighborhood, but that is an equally unlikely scenario, at least for the time being.
In the meantime, we have a lot of FABULOUS produce.
Anybody want a cucumber?
Because it is one of my favorites and fits into my thought of the day, I am going to reproduce here a column that I wrote when we lived in Massachusetts (in the Northborough-Southborough Villager). It is 10 years old, but it still makes me laugh.
A Garden Variety Obsession
Our little homestead is in the throes of a heated conflict. On one side is Homo sapiens - my husband. His opponent: a familiar member of the order Lagomorpha - the bunny rabbit. Yes, it's garden season, the time when every year the otherwise normal man I live with transforms into a crazed version of Farmer McGregor. This year, we got McGregor's cottontail nemesis as well.
Every spring something in my husband's face lights up. He rubs his hands together in happy anticipation and announces, "It's time to get the peas in!" Peas are always the first crop, the great inspiration. Additional seed packets arrive as well: radishes, lettuce, carrots, beets, turnips, pumpkins, cucumbers, onions - you name it. Unfortunately, time constraints being what they are, most of the seeds never leave their envelopes. But every year several crops go into the garden, and every year Farmer Wood's compulsion to grow increases.
I have never quite understood this obsession that drives my dear companion to cultivate edibles. It may have to do with where he grew up. Maybe it's a New Hampshire thing. I knew there was something unusual about him early on in our relationship when we reminisced about childhood delights. His version of a big treat was when the local farm produce truck parked across the street from his house. He'd buy a bag of fresh peas and eat the whole thing by himself. Mmm!
That's one childhood fantasy that passed me by. In the face of his wholesome memory I felt almost guilty confessing my decadent version of a treat day. While he was thinking fresh produce, I was thinking Sugar Babies and Bazooka bubble gum. A great day for me was a trip to the local drug store on allowance day to gorge myself on candy and comic books.
So I continue to be perplexed by my husband's avid devotion to his vegetable garden. It's certainly not economics that drives him. The money that goes into seeds, young plants, fertilizer, pest repellants, fencing, and garden tools is not insignificant. On top of that, if you value your time even at minimum wage you’re growing some pretty costly salad makings.
It's not always a question of feeding his family their favorite foods either. There was the year Daddy planted twelve tomato plants. Consumption couldn't keep up with production, and we watched the fruits rot on the vine. Once we had five beautiful bushes laden with eggplants. I'll admit they were pretty, though none of us would think of actually eating an eggplant.
This year the gardening obsession reached new heights when the battle of wits began between my brilliant husband and a garden rabbit. A few weeks ago Farmer Wood put six beautiful young broccoli plants in his garden plot. The next morning he looked out the window to see six bare broccoli stalks sticking out of the dirt.
"This means war!" he proclaimed with conviction as he headed off to Agway. Later on he returned with six new broccoli plants, some chicken wire, and a battle plan. Over dinner that evening Daddy enthusiastically shared his newfound knowledge of organic pest control with the family.
"I bought a batch of fox urine to spread around the garden."
Fox urine doesn't work for all pests, he went on to explain. We learned that if you're having raccoon problems you need coyote urine. If, on the other hand, a moose is wreaking havoc in your life, you have to spread around some wolf urine as a deterrent. I couldn't help wondering out loud how they go about extracting the pest control fluids from these poor, unsuspecting predators. Given the presence of several grade school children, that dinner conversation quickly went downhill.
The fox urine worked beautifully on our dog. She barked like mad with hackles so high she looked electrified. For twenty minutes she sniffed and growled and circled the garden warily, looking increasingly confused. The rabbit, on the other hand, didn't seem to mind it a bit. The morning sun rose over six more defoliated broccoli plants.
I bought a crown of broccoli at the supermarket for $1.29 and served it for dinner that night, hoping some subliminal message might get through to my determined husband. "See how easy? See how cheap? See how delicious and pest-free?" Needless to say, I didn't deter him a bit. I guess I was missing the point, since he doesn't even like broccoli.
In subsequent conversations with other local farmers, Farmer Wood learned that blood can also be effective in keeping hungry rabbits away. The kids and I now steer clear whenever Dad's in the garden.
At the writing of this column our well-fed bunny had been through eighteen broccoli plants. She probably spends her free time spreading the word to other bunnies in the neighborhood of the never ending broccoli supply in the Woods' yard. Now that the peas are coming up we may be in for even more trouble. Peas are sacred to Farmer Wood. There will be no end to the blood, sweat, and tears (and who knows what else) that he will be willing to sacrifice in order to save those peas.
Even though I might tease him mercilessly, I will not complain about any of my husband's heroic botanical pursuits. They don't have to make sense. He's aglow when he's in that garden. He has also offered my children a childhood delight that I overlooked. Despite all the complaints at weeding time, the kids actually love to be sent out to the garden on a summer evening to pick some peas for dinner. Inevitably, the peas are all eaten before they get anywhere near a cooking pot. I'm not saying my kids don't like a trip to O'Brien's Five and Ten on allowance day, but they sure go through fresh peas like candy. The supermarket variety just isn't the same.
So who am I to argue? I stand content in the knowledge that my husband's obsession only serves to spread happiness - especially to bunnies.