October 2013

Harvest time

By Suzanne Strazza

When I was growing up, we never had a garden. We had a beautiful yard: green grass, rhododendron, dogwood trees, but the only edibles that my mom grew were just enough chives to go on our baked potatoes.

Back then, she said it was because the deer ate everything, but in more recent years the truth has been revealed: “If you grow all of that food then someone’s got to cook it all, and who wants to do that?”

My mother is a fantastic cook, but would apparently rather be shooting squirrels out her bedroom window with a .22 than sautéing swiss chard.

My very first garden was here in Mancos. Everyone else (at least all of the hippie moms with whom I hung) grew their own food and I kept hearing how “important it is for our children to understand where their food comes from.” I figured Social Services might get called if I fed my babies storebought produce, so I built, filled and planted a garden: lettuce, tomatoes and zucchini.

It was modest and amateurish and yet incredibly satisfying. I’d never grown my own food before and really knew absolutely nothing about it so every second of it was just great.

The next year was the year when tap water ran brown and the town was divided over watering the football field or providing drinking water. So a garden fell way down the priority list. In typical “I can be as good of a mom as all the other hippies” insecure thinking, I knew that I would do whatever it took to retain the source of our sustenance.

Every drop of gray water that could be gathered in my home, was. I spent hours every day, collecting, hauling and storing the bath water, laundry water and dirty dish water.

And my garden F#$%ing loved it. It went nuts out there: corn, tomatoes, peas, basil, kohlrabi, bitter greens, cabbage, pumpkins, and so on.

Early every morning, I took a bucket-full out with a cup of coffee and after dumping the water, I wandered through the rows, amongst the vines, picking a weed here and there, eating a fresh pea off of the vine, and gazing adoringly at each and every member of my little family.

The next year was the biblical grasshopper year and when I saw that my onions had been completely devoured, all the way through to their precious little cores, I became so disheartened that growing vegetables was no longer going to be a part of my life.

And besides, my children not only knew where their veggies came from but they’d also decided that they didn’t like them. So what was the point?

Then, we moved down Weber and had land and irrigation water; you’d think that I might have gotten back into it, but no. Living in tents witnessing grasshopper sex on the canvas ceiling reminded me that grasshoppers are not the friends of farmers or their crops. I was so repulsed by them that I couldn’t force myself to create one more space where I would have to deal with them.

Long story short, this year, I received raised beds for a birthday gift, along with some really sweet soil, so I have become a gardener once again.

And I am totally loving it.

Carrots, potatoes, basil, onions, garlic, chard, salad mix, cayenne, yellow bells, tomatoes, broccoli, zucchini, cucumbers. And then, there’s The Squash.

When a friend gave me a zucchini starter, there was a renegade composted squash seed in the soil. It had started to sprout so I figured “What the hell?” and planted it.

So now there is this thing that has completely taken over not only the garden, but the entire back yard. It’s like The Little Shop of Horrors out there. It has gone north, east, south and west, winding its tendrils around every object with which it comes in contact. It has re-rooted and grown new plants. It doubles back on itself so many times that there is no longer a beginning or an end. Some of the marigolds, peppers and carrots have died off from lack of sun.

It wormed its way through the spokes of a nearby bicycle and made it impossible to ride.

It stands chest-high in places with leaves as big as my ass and doubles in size about every 24 hours.

And I don’t know what the hell it is.

So, I’ve been watching it, waiting for it to begin production. It has, and the results have not clarified anything for me because it is growing two totally different kinds of squash.

There are these big round yellow things and then sort of turban-shaped dark green ones. Since I highly doubted that this was possible, I spent hours following each arm of this creature root to finger tip and sure enough, it was the same damn plant.

(I have since figured out that it’s some bizarre buttercup/hubbard hybrid.)

And this leads me to harvesting veggies and the joys that come with the activity. As I was playing in the mud today, I pondered which item is most satisfying and fun to harvest?

Zucchini is always a good one for instant gratification. The beauty here is that even if you pick three one day, you know that within an hour, you’ll have 15 more to gather. Sometimes, though, the sheer numbers turn some of the pleasure into “Dear God, no more zucchini bread.”

Tomatoes – always fun because they are never a sure bet around here. The little cherry ones rock because you can pop them directly into your mouth and never actually have to carry any inside.

Carrots? They look like they’d be really fun but they’re also really hard to get out of the ground and I end up fairly pissed off when my fingertips hurt and I hear the snap of the bottom half winning the battle.

Onions are fun, as long as you don’t pull up a hollowed out shell filled with grasshopper doo doo.

Peppers are okay, but not that exciting. They’re sort of, right there, and they take so damn long to grow that the thrill is usually long gone by picking time. Broccoli is always a bit of a let-down because you end up with a huge, vibrant plant that is practically useless.

Lettuce and chard; pick one eat one, pick one, eat one. Fabulous. There is also the continuing challenge of trying to catch the lettuce before it bolts and turns bitter and you have to give up and let the arugula and frissie take over.

The mystery squash – so cool, right? I like to pick a green one and a yellow one at the same time so that I can sit them next to each other on the counter and point out to anyone walking by that, “These came from the same plant, isn’t that amazing? Aren’t I amazing for growing them?”

But the best, hands down?

Potatoes. I love love love picking potatoes. Picking potatoes gets you right down in there in the dirt. I sit down amongst several droopy plants and literally dig in, with my hands, I’d never use tools.

You have no idea what you will pull up when you go in the first time. You think that you’ve gotten the prize and then you dig around a little more and you find a treasure trove of little babies out in left field. So then you expand your digging circle and just when you think that you must have gotten everything, you find one more little rascal off on its own in the shade of an ass-sized squash leaf.

And yes, if I grow this stuff and then go to all of the work to harvest it, then I will probably cook it too.

Suzanne Strazza is an award-winning writer in Mancos, Colo. See her blog at www.singleinthesouthwest. com.