Friday, July 23, 2010

Garden Thoughts

So discouraging.....all my best efforts. All the best efforts, the right ingredients, the proper timing. I wish I knew what to do next to beat the invisible natural enemies and the inevitable antagonists of your average fall garden mum.
They look so tidy when you line them out. Every one is tagged, fertilized; every leader is checked. Still, if temperature gets too hot or it rains too many days, various nasty organisms take charge and the little plants wither and die instead of growing wild with the vigor your average modern garden mum will exhibit. Even an application of protective fungicide has been insufficient to keep those neat rows uniform.

For a dedicated gardener, its a real bummer. As a farmer of sorts, I feel like an abject failure. And that's after applying the usual chestnuts about the vagaries of weather, blah, blah, blah. I want to see plants spreading their lobed green arms over the walk paths, meshing and intertwining before unfolding a myriad of tiny green buds that pale and swell with the passage of August until they explode with the hues of fall as the soybeans behind them yellow and drop their foliage.

I hate falling back on the timeworn excuse of growers everywhere and at every time: If its not one damn thing, its another.

Elsewhere this late July, the seasonal parade of produce proceeds. This morning Blake and I picked a half sack of tomatoes; they aren't huge, but summer has blessed them with enough warmth that they are sweet and juicy on sandwiches and off. Tonight I made BCTs instead of BLTs. No lettuce from the store, so I searched the vines for a cucumber to crisp my sandwich with green and crunch. We had cukes and tomatoes on the bread and on the side. So many yummy ways to augment a cucumber!! A little vinegar, a little dill, a little Miracle Whip, a little ranch.....simple salt and pepper. I always hate throwing the big boys on the compost pile, but its part of being a cuke; if they were orange, we'd be overrun.

Aaron's gourds are so wild and vigorous, they make me laugh. Each leaf is the size of a platter and hiding beneath them on the fence are cunning little golden teardrops. The curlicues claw and grasp at the air in search of more altitude. The tendrils without fence are duking it out with the cardinal climber on the little windmill. I had better enjoy the flowers while I can; the gourds are encroaching and will meet in the middle from their original planting on opposite ends of the garden. I saw the first swallowtail caterpillar today on the dill; I love smelling dill in the garden, but I have no luck making dill pickles; the primary consumers of dill are the striped inhabitants, the only caterpillars I'll tolerate and even welcome. Soon they will worked their way through the dill and begin on the parsley. There is plenty of parsley to go around. I still haven't had a tasty plate of Ann's bruschetta yet even though the basil is abundant. Blake rescued some of the herbs where a large tomato plant had blown over in last week's storm.

Got the clippers out tonight. I know there are probably lots of weeds in both vegetable and flower beds, but I can no longer really see them. However, the tree sprouts are an entirely different matter. Their 4 foot stems threaten to become trunks in the back border and front border alike, so I must wade through the prickly coneflowers, the knife edge grasses, the fragile hibiscus and daylilies, to take them down at the roots. Mulberries, mulberries, a bane right up there with elm sprouts. I love song birds, and I understand the attraction those purple berries must present. I won't tutor the Creator of all, but it does seem that crab apples are both tasty and less invasive?? Just sayin'.

We put up sweet corn today. Its a family affair with the men walking the rows and pulling the ears, then sitting in the shade husking and silking with old pale dish towels. The corn is plopped into giant starchy boiling pots, blanched, and cooled in the sink before coming back up the stairs to the ladies standing at the tables armed with a potpourri of knives, glass pans, roasters and freezer bags. Zip, zip, zip, zip and a juicy stripe of kernels is separated from the still warm cob. When the Pyrex is piled high, we scoop the corn up into baggies with metal cups, plastic spoons or our bare hands. Corn flies everywhere and sticks to everything; legs, hair, iced tea cups, and especially eyeglasses. A big exhaust fan keeps the workers free from all but the most persistent flies. I watched, but none of us cuts corn like Grandma Hurst used to, holding the ear and cutting toward her. She never left a kernel on the cob. This year Gabe, Abbie and Lizzie spent a little time at the corn table, scooping a few bags before going on to other play times. I got smart, too, and skipped everything but the freshly boiled roasting ears for dinner.....til it came time for German chocolate cake that is. We'll eat corn every day, with luck, until the magical season ends.

On Monday we have blackberries waiting in the fridge....two gallons worth from Barb's garden. Blackberries are huge....and have huge cores. But we've got lots of sugar and Surejell and cooking blackberry jam is just about the best canning smell in the world. I love making jelly and jam even though squeezing the jelly bag is both hot, messy, and probably verboten in the terms of making jam really the right way. Just hate to waste any juice at all!

A good week ahead for summer gardeners: the heat and miasma have parted for a few days and husbandry is more appealing. Best take advantage while we can. August is just around the corner.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Public Servants

Its an election year. If we aren't focused on our public servants already, soon we will be forced to by the barrage of billboards, television ads, mailings, radio spots, polls.....the list goes on and on. The vast expenditure of time, talent and dollars; the necessary outpouring of opinion; the splitting of hairs and targeting of messages; all these combine to have a Chicken Little effect on the populace. We become jaded, lethargic, and downright irritated by the attention demanded by our elected representatives and their messengers.

But this is also the month before our Missouri primaries and the giant general election is relatively distant. So its a good time to take note of the more gentle, local, unrewarded volunteers all around us. Take sandpaper to our thick skin and rub down to our soft heart. Lower our demands and our expectations to bread and butter rather than cake and ice cream. When we do that, we may not see results, but we'll notice and appreciate effort.

Thanks again to all those who maintain, who paint, weed, pick up, and mow. There is a whole literature devoted to the 'broken window' theory. It applies to small towns and neighborhoods no less than inner cities. Wish we could make everything new and spiffy. Wish we could rehabilitate what we still have with some magical source of multi millions. But happy for a fence and barberries. Happy that tearing down makes us look up.

Thanks for local talent. Warm up those vocal chords. Dig the winds out of the bedroom closet. Practice like fiends; wear out your lip, your lungs, your butt. Play something that's way too hard. Work into a team, an ensemble and bring music, laughter, song and dance to empty halls. Sure, its fabulous to travel to the big city and listen to the pros in the lap of a luxury entertainment palace. To have your culture handed to you on a silver platter. But learning your show note by note and entrance by entrance is like gardening; the show doesn't look like much when planted but eventually fills in until no one notices a weed or two and your canvas could be a Monet. I'm sure producing a show gives lots of folks gray hair, but I think I keep a few brain cells and add some dexterity that I would otherwise lose during the months we practice. And perhaps someone in the audience will get the opportunity to indulge a love of theater or hear a type of music not readily available on the airwaves these days.

Finally, thanks for all the folks who put in their time for the little children. When I see the ladies helping fearful young 'uns put their face in the water for nigh unto the second generation; when I they travel miles to put in another year at the Tarkio Pool; when my children are signing their children up for Red Cross swimming lessons, I say a prayer of appreciation.

Thanks to coaches and parents who patiently put up with dust and noise and lost weekends on the ball field to introduce kids to the Great American past time. Thank you for the finest examples of sportsmanship and leadership.

Our church has been transformed into a dude ranch for the week. Lots of folks have contributed to make a fun festive atmosphere and to bring the joy of love of God and man to the kids and each other for the week. From the ladies in the kitchen offering seconds, to the young adults teaching games on their summer vacation, to the hilarious skits, thoughtfully prepared crafts and individual attention and greetings for each child, the admonition of Jesus to 'suffer the little children' and to come to Him as a child would is played out dozens of times each evening. Bless them all.

Each time we volunteer we make our little town a better place, but we really make ourselves better citizens and better people. No one keeps score and no one keeps a time card; no one makes a commercial like the Liberty Mutual people do, or the Foundation for a Better Life. It's just another gentle reminder that time spent away from our own work and worry is not wasted time.