Lessons from the garden at harvest time

A backyard garden teaches lots of valuable lessons. There are the obvious ones, such as: You can grow fresh vegetables and herbs in your own yard, and you can get exercise and fresh air doing it. You can harvest healthy food, and your children will learn where food comes from. And talk about locally grown!

But there are other lessons, too. Weeds like to grow in your garden bed, cozying up to your cucumbers and lettuce. Critters like to eat your vegetables, too — I’m lookin’ at you, squirrels and rabbits. The bees will pollinate the squash when they feel like it. You want rain? Turn on the sprinkler.

I have learned this year that no garden is too big for my husband. It grew in size a few years back when we took out the kids’ swing set. Last year an old tree died, so now there is even more sunny space and, like a job that fills the available time to do it, our garden has now filled the available plot.

Good for my husband’s ego, maybe, but a challenge for me. I am not involved so much in the planning and planting stage. Robert asks my opinion on varieties of tomatoes to grow and what kind of squash I like, but I let him order the seeds and get them started.

My job kicks in at harvest time, because I am left to cook what he grows. We do eat well in the summer — meals consisting of cucumber salad, sliced tomatoes with mozzarella and basil, green beans, squash casseroles. We don’t even need meat with all that. I love the good eating.

It doesn’t stop there, though. There are more than enough tomatoes, so I preserve some for the winter. I spent an entire afternoon on one of my vacation days turning 20 pounds of cherry tomatoes into six bags of frozen tomato puree. I’ve made some squash casseroles to freeze and enjoy on winter evenings. I’ve made pickles.

This year, we seem to have an overwhelming abundance of vegetables. Best garden year ever, my husband says. I agree it’s the biggest garden year ever.

We have picked, I’d estimate, close to 200 squash and almost as many cucumbers. That’s a lot of pickles, folks.

But I can make only so much, so off we go with bags full of extra veggies — to work, family visits and wherever else we find willing takers. From this experience, I’ve learned another garden lesson.

People are funny about what they are willing to take from your garden. Vegetarians will generally take anything, although even they can be picky. Some vegetarians won’t eat zucchini.

Some people don’t know what to do with vegetables. Show them beautiful tiny yellow garden squash, the kind you pay big bucks for at a stylish farm-to-table restaurant, and they curl their lip and say, “But I don’t know what you do with that.” Hmm, not adventurous cooks, I guess. Offer them a yellow or red tomato — they take the red every time. That yellow one is a little odd, no?

How about some fresh green beans? “Oh, well, how do you cook them?” I started explaining that you just simmer in water and then … “uh, well, uh, no, you better not, I can’t do that.”

People who really enjoy fresh vegetables are my go-to veggie buddies. They’ll munch a cucumber raw, just like a banana, for a snack at the office. Score!

My mom is a good customer. A child of the Depression, she’s always been thrifty, and she’s always loved vegetables. So no amount of free fresh produce is too much. She’ll fry the squash and eat cucumber salad every day. Tomatoes are like candy to her.

So this is my summer — watching the garden grow, harvesting every morning, giving away some produce and cooking or saving the rest. We don’t go to the beach in August; we go to the garden.

And we learn something new every year, such as: seven plants of cherry tomatoes is too many. Then there was the day we picked 20 cucumbers. I was puzzled by the abundance because we’d planted, I thought, just three or four plants. “Well,” my husband mumbled, “I think it was more like 12.”

Aha! OK, next year, I’m going to be paying more attention at planting time. My husband might find that some of his seedlings “mysteriously” disappear. I’m lookin’ at you again, rabbits.

Teresa Cook is a copy editor for the Daily Record/Sunday News. She can be reached at tcook@ydr.com.

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  1. September 10, 2012

    […] Cook. She puts together pages for the Living and Viewpoints sections, but you might have seen her Smart columns or posts at Book Buzz, […]

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