J is for Judge and Jury

In a flash of inspiration, I have realized that I am an omnipotent being. Wow! Not omnipotent in all areas of my life, of course. No, that would be too good to be true. You may wonder where in my personal world I am so all-powerful. Read on.

Last weekend, I finished putting my vegetable garden to bed for the winter. I stripped a late handful of bean pods off the scarlet runner vines, pulled and stored the beets, and cleared a final few patches of dead squash plants and weeds. Then I hoed off some baby weeds that had gotten a start on areas previously cleared.

As I worked, my mind reviewed the successes and failures of this hot, dry summer with its bonanza of spaghetti squash and pumpkins, meagre output of potatoes, and poor harvest of beets. I assessed the performance of each crop and considered the tally of frozen, stored, and canned produce in my freezer and pantry.

Then I began to plan how I will lay out my garden next year. I probably have enough pumpkin purée in my freezer to last two winters, and I have nineteen pumpkins from this year waiting to be processed. I’m caught wondering if I feel triumphant or horrified about that. Let’s go with triumphant, and imagine a long row of grinning jack o’lanterns.

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Acting as judge and jury, I decided to suspend the planting of pumpkins next year, a tougher choice than it might seem to a disinterested outsider, but I’m holding firm on that…so far. Next, I think of the spaghetti squash and the many, many extras I gave away to others. Should I cut back on next spring’s plantings? I would, but last year I planted the same number of vines and they produced modest numbers of fruit. Different years, different conditions, different yields.

And so it proceeded for each crop – how much did I plant this year, how did it perform, how does that compare to other years, and what do I see myself wanting next year? What will I discontinue and is there anything new I want to try?

When I finished clearing the garden, I stepped back, leaned on my hoe, and admired the results. (This is the second most important task of the hoe – to be leaned upon.) That’s when the revelation hit me. This vegetable garden, this jewel in my life, is mine to control and command. It hangs on my mercy and my wrath.

Apart from the weather, I control all. I decide what seeds and seedlings will be allotted space to grow. I offer extra food and water. I weed, stake, prune, trim, and pamper. When necessary, I punish – verily, I smite.

To think that through the years, I’ve believed that I garden because I love the freshness of home-grown produce, the joy of communing with nature, and the challenge of battling weather, climate, and pests. Now, I wonder if my vegetable patch has fulfilled a subconscious need to be all-powerful – the Supreme Force in that small world, a Giant, a Demi-God.

Bwahahahaha!

Wait. Stop. Me, a megalomaniac? Not at all. I was just joking.

Really.

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Here’s where young children can jump to a jolly good time learning about the letter J.

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H is for Harvest

Harvest season can be a time of joyous anticipation for the gardener, especially when heading out to unearth the potatoes. Unlike corn and pumpkins, which are blatant about the level of their productivity, the potato plant’s show of greenery above ground tells us nothing about how many spuds lie below, nor how big those tubers might be. Only when the tops die back and the earth is moved aside is truth revealed.

Will it be a good year or a bad year? The question burns in my mind as I put on my work gloves and gather my big bucket and digging tools. This summer has been hot and dry and the spaghetti squash loved it and produced madly. In fact, all my squash varieties thrived in the sun and heat. Dare I hope the potatoes liked it, too?

Last year, I had a bumper crop of potatoes. The yield of fifteen hills of Red Pontiac plants filled two knee-high buckets with smooth, well-developed tubers. I was amazed and impressed. Today, I know I should not expect as much as last year, and yet, I can’t help but hope.

OK. Now I’ve dug the potatoes and H is definitely NOT for hope. Hopes have been thoroughly dashed. This year I did not get two big, big buckets of potatoes. I barely filled one bucket. And the filling of that bucket took lots and lots of little potatoes, the type I refer to as Tots. Yes, they are cute and tasty, but they refused to pack on the weight necessary for good yield, meagre, miserly things that they are.

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By cheery contrast to this year’s potato production, I tell you the tale of my pumpkin harvest. Last year, I planted 6 vines and brought in 9 pumpkins, a respectable number. This year, I again planted 6 vines and brought in…brace yourselves…19 pumpkins. Nineteen! The enormity of such a yield snatches the air from my lungs.

This is the way of the garden, the Tao of it, if you will. Crop A hates the conditions of a particular growing season and sulks its way through to a meagre yield, while crop B loves them and thrives. As long as I plant many varieties of crop, I can be sure at least one will like what the climate and weather provide.

In whatever way the season plays out in a given year, the crops that do well will reward my joyous anticipation of the harvest. What’s not to love? Perhaps H should be for Hug.

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H is also for Hat, Horn, and Hawk, as human tots can discover in my video, Letter H and the Secret Window:

 

F is for First

There are many joys in the firsts of gardening. The first time my hoe hits the ground in early April fills me with buoyant anticipation. The first tendrils of green shoots from the first-planted onions fill me with awe. And the first ripe raspberry sends ripples of ecstasy through my taste buds.

But, there are also many woes in gardening firsts. There are the first weeds – that’s weeds, not weed, because they never arrive singly. The first insect infestation might be mealy cabbage aphids on the Brussels sprouts – always guaranteed to elicit a growl deep in my throat. Then there is the first mammal attack – usually the intrusive grey squirrels who strip the unripe hazelnuts off my trees.

This year a new first has struck. Some creature, for the first time ever, has decided to pull up and toss aside my onions. I’m not sure who to blame for this atrocity. Is it a raccoon? A squirrel? A particularly burly rat?

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Whichever creature is responsible for this thuggish behaviour, it hasn’t bothered to eat the onions. I don’t suppose it fears onion breath, and for all I know, a whiff of onion might improve the halitosis of a raccoon. I can’t say I’ve ever had a sniff, but considering that the urban raccoon frequents dumpsters, I don’t suppose it’s normally fresh and minty.

Finally, there are the wistful firsts of gardening. There is the first die-back of potato plants that signals the time for their harvest and the end of their season. When the last spud comes out of the ground, it marks the beginning of the end for all the crops.

Keeping stride with the potatoes, the first pumpkin leaves turn yellow and begin to collapse. Though the cheerful orange fruits will continue to mature, the plants are soon at an end. Days that moved slowly in the spring now speed up in a downhill race to the first frost.

When the first monsoonal rains of autumn hit the freshly cleared ground of the garden, it is time for the best first of all – the first fantasy about next year’s garden and what a perfect year that will be.

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Young ones learning their abcs can discover words that start with the letter f at:

E is for Extra

It’s that time of year in the vegetable garden. Now is the season of bounty in the squash patch. You know how it is – the zucchinis are being fruitful in a frightful way. There is more fresh produce than you can humanly eat. Or inhumanly, for that matter. The freezer is brimming with fresh-frozen vegetables for the winter.

Naturally, you want to share your bounty, the succulent fruits of your labours. You offer the extra zucchini, vegetable marrow, or spaghetti squash to your gardenless friends and neighbours.

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That’s when you get THE LOOK, closely followed by a sigh of martyrdom. If you are lucky, one among your friends, let’s call him Bob, will deign to take a single zucchini. His body language will speak volumes of the personal sacrifice he is making and the enormity of the favour he is bestowing.

Some time ago, I wearied of the squirming that people did when I offered produce from my garden. I accepted that most people do not understand the difference in freshness and flavour between store-bought and home-grown vegetables. I also reminded myself that normal people don’t eat their veg by the plateful. My new strategy is to state that my garden is producing and, if anyone wants anything, they have only to ask.

Ask? The silence from all, including Bob, has been deafening, and I have taken to recycling the extra squash on the compost heap.

Imagine my surprise when I heard that the Food Bank wanted fresh produce. The signs by their donation bins always request Non-Perishables.

First, I went to the website for the local food bank. Yes, one of their pages said they would take extra garden produce. Still, I was wary. Surely at this time of year, they would be buried under extra zucchinis. This year my spaghetti squash is going particularly insane, so it’s a good year for squash in our area. I picked up the phone and called the Food Bank.

“Um, I don’t know if you have too many already, but I have some extra squash in my garden,” I said. “You probably don’t want any, do you?

The fellow on the other end of the call said, “We would love any extra produce you might have.”

“Oh? Oh! OK,” was the best response I could muster.

I went into my garden and pulled out eight spaghetti squash, loaded them into the paniers of my bike and my daypack, and pedalled them across town to the food bank.

They were thrilled. The young man who helped me carry them into the food bank from my bike thanked me sincerely. A woman who had come into the food bank to help out spotted them being carried into the back room. Her eyes sparkled as she, too, thanked me.

Since then, I have taken in a second batch of six spaghetti squash and a bag of Swiss chard. Today, I will take in another load of squash. It turns out extra is not a dirty word. Who knew?

In case you worry that the compost is feeling lonely, neglected, and abandoned – fear not. There are plenty of weeds to be added to it and, any day now, I will do just that.

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E is also for elf, eel, and elk. Youngsters can discover this at my video, “Letter E and the Secret Window.”

D is for Destruction

Oh, woe! Disaster struck overnight in the corn patch. The bad news is two fine corn stalks were struck down by a Dastardly Destroyer, one of the local raccoon mob. These corn plants were snapped right off and cannot be rescued. The good news is fifty stalks are still standing…so far…[cue ominous music]…

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I sigh and hang my head in desperation. “Why, why, why?” I ask the Universe. There is no answer.

The corn plants haven’t yet tasseled or formed cobs so there’s nothing on the plant to benefit the raccoon. By killing the plants, the critter has guaranteed that they never will produce succulent kernels for it to devour. Not the brightest move on the part of Procyon lotor.

Scientifically, the raccoon family is closely related to the bear family. That may explain its bent toward wanton destruction. Have you seen what a bear can do to an automobile if there’s the slightest whiff of a tidbit inside or even a glimpse of something that looks like a cooler? Not pretty. If a grizzly can’t shatter a side window by pushing its considerable weight (upwards of 270 kg or 600 pounds) against it, it will simply rip off the door. The bear doesn’t care if it destroyed the car and found nothing to eat inside of it. There are plenty of other cars in the campground.

By contrast, a raccoon weighs up to 9 kg or 20 pounds, which fortunately keeps it out of the door-ripping business. Still, the coon has plenty of body weight to push over a corn stalk. I want to grab that rapscallion by the scruff of the neck and scream into its face, “It’s too early! There is no corn on the corn stalks. Stop killing them!”

It would be a waste of breath, of course. The raccoon would take exception to my violation of its personal space, and would respond with hissing and biting. Communication would fail utterly.

The devastation could be worse. Five years ago, a raccoon came through the neighbourhood one night and pushed over one entire row of corn plants in my garden and all of my neighbour’s corn. Again, it was too early for the stalks to be bearing food. That’s when I started experimenting with ways to protect the stalks.

Today, all I can do is increase the defenses in the corn. I will get out my trusty roll of twine and run another line of support along each row, cinching it tight at the ends. I am determined to get a few delectable cobs of corn for myself and my friends. Delicious!

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Some “d” words for children can be found at my video, Letter D and the Secret Window:

B is for Boisterous

The blooming bush beans are boisterous. That’s today’s good news from my vegetable garden. The not-so-good news? The weeds, too, are boisterous.

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Clearly, I have done an excellent job of keeping the soil fertile, aerated, and suitably watered. Plants of all pedigrees, refined and dodgy, are keen to move in, grow, and multiply. And they have.

My problem is that I insist on believing the bush beans I planted have exclusive rights to the area I allotted for them. This belief is not shared by the hordes of purslane, morning glory, black nightshade, dandelion, pigweed, and quackgrass that have crashed the garden party. I tried to hold a black tie and tails event, and it’s been overrun by riffraff in jeans and sneakers.

My carefully served up toasted brioche rounds with crème fraîche and caviar, the fruits de mer, and the pâté with white truffles are vanishing down the maws of the uninvited. I’m trying to be a good host, trying to tolerate the jostling crowds, and be oh-so politically correct, but my polite smile grows ever more brittle. (The bush beans abandoned civility long ago.)

No. That’s it. No more hoi polloi. This party needs a bouncer. It’s time to act.

As dawn breaks, I trade my black tie for a silver trowel, and exchange my stiff upper lip for stubborn determination. One by one, I doggedly remove the intruders. Time passes. The sun climbs higher. The compost pile expands. Finally, the riffraff have been escorted off the premises.

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Now the beans luxuriate in their newfound, airy accommodation, and I relax with a glass of what’s left of the bubbly. Both I and the bush beans know the reprieve is temporary, but it’s still worth celebrating.

Cheers!

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P.S. – for the youngsters of the household, I present my video, Letter B and the Secret Window:

A is for Applesauce

The apple is my new hero. Forget the old idiom about an apple a day keeping the doctor away. For me, an apple a day helps keep my potassium level low. Well, “low” might be a misleading term here. I mean to say, it helps keep my potassium level below TOXIC.

Now, most of you are thinking, “Huh?” and I would have said the same thing a couple of years ago. Indeed, back in those happy days, I didn’t give potassium a second thought. Truthfully, I didn’t even give it a first thought.

But these days, my doctor has me taking a cornucopia of cardiac medications, and some of those meds are “potassium sparing.” Simply put, they stop my body from getting rid of potassium the way it used to. So, if what I eat each day contains more potassium than my body eliminates, the level in my blood rises.

And high potassium can stop your heart.

Actually, the medical profession uses terms like cardiac dysrhythmia, asystole, ventricular fibrillation, and terminating event. But who cares about the details? Fancy words don’t make it sound like any more fun.

That’s why I’m appreciating the apple these days. A 100 gram serving of apple (3 ½ ounces) has 107 milligrams of potassium. Compare that to another “A” word, the avocado, which has 485 milligrams for the same weight of fruit. Dates are even worse, at 696 mg, and raisins are insane at 749. I will occasionally splurge and have 10 grapes as a treat, but dates just aren’t worth their potassium load.

When I saw that applesauce was even lower than apples, 74 mg versus 107 mg, I celebrated. Then I weighed out 100 g of applesauce.

Hurrah! Let the feasting begin.

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As a Post Script and in keeping with the A letter theme, I have included my video for youngsters of an age to learn their abc’s. It is a search for objects and animals that start with the letter “a.” For your kiddies’ viewing pleasure – Letter A and the Secret Window. Enjoy!