Frequent readers of this blog may recall that this year presented real challenges to gardeners and farmers across the country. The months of April and May were rainy and wet. June and July brought record highs due to searing national heat waves. August was almost fall-like with the temperatures going up and down. September, well it was September, and a true “Indian Summer” never really manifested in October, as many local baseball fans would attest. The mantra I am sure that came from everybody lips was “Deal With It…Just Deal With It! You really had no other choice but to deal with whatever Mother Nature threw down. Our fathers…our father’s fathers…and their fathers before them all understood what we all now know…“that which doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger”…DEAL WITH IT!
So deal with I did. I posted pictures in a previous blog that showed what my garden looked like at a couple of stages this year. At the time the pictures were taken, I was hopeful but I really wasn’t expecting much, not like last year. Last year was fantastic…an exceptional year. What made me more than a little concerned was that I had signed up for a program with the Garden Resource Program (The Greening of Detroit) to weigh my harvested produce. When I signed up for this initiative I did so because of last year’s success. But with the way things had started this year I was having some regrets and doubts very early on.
Every day I worked out in the garden, I thought of myself as a “sodbuster”, in the traditional sense. On the rainy days I got soaked to the bone! On the hot days I sweated like a pig! Either way I looked like someone had thrown buckets of water on me. One day my mother said, “Arthur, what have you been doing…you’re BLACK”! I had to laugh for maybe my mom didn’t know that black folks tanned. But there I was with a farmer’s tan…neck, shoulders, arms and the bottom half of my legs (I usually wore shorts when working in the garden). My long hours working in the garden, in the sun, evoked memories and images in my mind of cotton fields and cabbage patches worked by sharecroppers back in the day. The things I read about in history books or works of fiction were what I was living presently…day in and day out.
Lest you think that I am being overly dramatic, there is a real connection to the past here…the way we all used to live. Being a post-war baby…a baby boomer…I can recall the days when everybody had a garden in his or her yard. You lived off of your efforts to grow things. If you grew tomatoes…you canned them! If you grew beans…you pickled them! If you had fruit trees…you made jams or pies! We had cabbage plants, carrots, peas, cucumbers; you name it…you grew things because you had to…everybody lived off of the land. Black, White, Asian…Martian or Venutian…you worked your garden because it was in your DNA. History compelled you to do so. And now 50 some odd years later, I was carrying on the tradition. I never thought about it…never thought I would…but I was out there. Watering plants by hand, not with a hose hooked to a faucet, to save money and resources. Pulling and hoeing weeds…gardening organically, without the use of pesticides. Fighting off the varmints…squirrels, birds and rabbits, fending off the damage they could and would do on a daily basis. There were a lot of moments where I thought, “How did they handle all of these negative factors…the rain, the heat, weeds, the insects, the varmints?” How did they survive these daily, weekly or season-long challenges? How did they do it? They would Deal With It…that’s all they could do…deal with it. And so did I!
Around the beginning of July, several of the plants started to show signs of bearing fruit and I harvested my first vegetable from the garden. It was Romaine Lettuce. We had it as part of our Fourth of July celebratory meal. Not too long after that, my onions were ready. I was kind of surprised that the onions were ready so soon, but I guess because of the extreme heat we had in June, a lot of vegetables matured at an accelerated pace. We had a big storm around July 11th and several of my tomato plants were knocked over. The bush beans were flooded and potted plants were blown away. But you know what I did, don’t you?
Around July 14th things started to come around. The beans came back from the storm damage and though it looked some of the plants growth (cucumbers, zucchini and squash) was stunted due to the excessive heat, there were signs that things would be okay. On July 19th I harvested my first batch of bush beans and the garden took off from there. Before the end of the month I was picking beans, cucumbers, lettuces and tomatoes and at the beginning of the month of August, I was adding all types peppers and squash to the list.
I kept planting beans throughout the summer and ultimately those efforts paid off. Before that garden was done, I had planted four successions of Contender and Provider bush beans along with Cherokee Yellow Wax Beans. My pole beans were a victim of the summer heat as they flowered quickly and then just died without producing anything. But everything else just flourished. It seemed that every day it didn’t rain I was picking stuff from the garden. My “yard of plenty” was giving me plenty to share with family, friends and neighbors. Some of the biggest tomatoes I have ever grown. The fleshiest and tastiest beans, the sweetest cucumbers and peppers that were both hot and sweet. Even my first year test of growing tomatillos was showing signs of success. Since I was weighing everything I harvested, I was surprised to see at the end of the month that I had harvested 60 pounds of produce. WOW!
September was even better! This time last year I was fighting a losing battle with the squirrels that lived in the trees around my yard. I was talking to a friend about the garden and pest control when he asked me how much had I lost to the squirrels this year. I thought about it for a minute and said that I had lost between 1 to 2% of this year’s yield up to then. It sounded so insignificant when compared to last year when I spent hours every day chasing the varmints from my yard and was unable to stop them from feeding two or three times a day. His remark was to SHUT THE F**K UP! I wasn’t just getting by…I was getting over! And he was right. September was even better than August when it came time for me to audit what I harvested for the month. On September 15 I had harvested a total of 117.66 pounds (August/September combined) and the final tally for the month showed that I had harvested 166.84 pounds. I had harvested over 100 pounds during the month of September. The breakdown was:
- Leaf/Greens 10.6 lbs.
- Cabbage/Broccoli 8.4 lbs.
- Beans 16.4 lbs.
- Squash/Zucchini/Cucumbers 20.06 lbs.
- Tomatoes 82.09 lbs.
- Tomatillos 7.13 lbs.
- Peppers 12.55 lbs.
- Onions 9.0 lbs
- Herbs 1.0 lbs
Total 166.84 lbs.
For October, though the numbers are incomplete, to date I have harvested 63.31 pounds of produce. I have harvested everything I can but still have quite a few tomatoes and tomatillos on the vine, along with broccoli, which has several shoots on each remaining plant. So by my count I am well over 200 pounds and I just might, if I don’t get hit by a hard frost before the end of next week, reach 250 pounds.
So in spite of all my worrying…hand wringing…cries of despair, I have had a truly remarkable year. What an effort…what a great yield! I learned a lot form gardening this year but the most important lesson I learned was…no matter what comes up…meet it head on…and just Deal With It. You may be real surprised as to way things turn out!
Ode To The End Of Summer
Adieu gregarious season
Goodby, ‘revoir, farewell
Now day, comes late; now chiller blows the breeze on
Forsaken beach and boarded-up hotel
Now wild geese fly together in thin lines
And Tourist Homes take down their lettered signs
It fades—this green this lavish interval
This time of flowers and fruits,
Of melon ripe along the orchard wall,
Of sun and sails and wrinkled linen suits;
Time when the world seems rather plus than minus
And pollen tickles the allergic sinus
Now fugitives to farm and shore and highland
Cancel their brief escape.
The Ferris wheel is quiet at Coney Island
And quaintness trades no longer on the Cape;
While meek-eyed parents hasten down the ramps
To greet their offspring, terrible from camps.
Turn up the steam. The year is growing older.
The maple boughs are red.
Summer, farewell. Farewell the sunburnt shoulder
Farewell the peasant kerchief on the head,
Farewell the thunderstorm, complete with lightning,
And the white shoe that ever needth whitening
Farewell, vacation friendships, sweet but tenuous
Ditto to slacks and shorts,
Farewell, O strange compulsion to be strenuous
Which sends us forth to death on tennis courts.
Farewell, Mosquito, horror of our nights;
Clambakes, iced tea, and transatlantic flights.
The zinnia withers, mortal as the tulip
Now from the dripping glass
I’ll sip no more the amateur mint julep
Nor dine al fresco on the alien grass;
Nor scale the height nor breast the truculent billow
Nor lay my head on any weekend pillow.
Unstintingly I yield myself to Autumn
And Equinoctial sloth.
I hide my swim suit in the bureau’s bottom
Nor fear the fury of the after-moth
Forswearing porch and pool and beetled garden,
My heart shall rest, my arteries shall harden.
Welcome, kind Fall, and every month with ‘r’ in
Whereto my mind is bent.
Come, sedentary season that I star in,
O fire-lit Winter of my deep content!
Amid the snow, the sleet, the blizzard’s raw gust
I shall be cozier than I was in August.
Safe from the picnic sleeps the unlittered dell,
The last Good Humor sounds its final bell
And all is silence.
Summer, farewell, farewell.
By Phyllis McGinley
Lastly, a special thanks to all of the people of the Garden Resource Program. Lindsay, Kido, Carmen, Tepfirah, Eitan and all of the rest…thank you for your kind and generous support. See Y’all Next Year!