Our gardens this year are the biggest areas of planted vegetables my husband Bob-O and I have ever attempted. Our recent retirement and our new well contributed to the decision to grow big this year. I had always thought there was a market for my garden’s overages by selling the produce at the campgrounds around the nearby reservoir. Turns out, this was not the year for that little dream.
Bob-O and I were both home all spring, first planning, then prepping and planting all three garden plots. We actually ran out of seedlings to plant before all the prepped and tilled rows could be used. Well, that’s not entirely true. I am not a ruthless gardener. If a volunteer vegetable has the gumption to grow on its own, I leave it be or transplant it someplace out of the path. It’s this way in my greenhouse, too. I plant a lot of seeds, and I grow all the seeds that sprout, sometimes transplanting them into smaller pots several times while waiting for our frost-free date of June 1.
I did not run out of tomato plants, but I drew the line at planting more than 30. At 20 plants, I stopped planting cukes. You get the picture. I was overplanting at that, still thinking of being able to sell my extra vegetables.
After I had planted all I thought we could handle, I boxed up the leftover seedlings and dropped them off outside our small post office. My homemade sign stated, “Free organic, open-pollinated veggies. Some labeled, some mysteries. Take a few, leave a few. Grow good food; eat well.”
On our way back home that evening we stopped by to take any leftover plants home. There were none, only the empty boxes. All summer long, I have imagined people growing and enjoying my tomatoes and other veggies.
Our new well and our enhanced watering system has performed just as it should, supplying water to all our gardens and orchard. Our tanks are automatically refilled for fire protection. Of course, Bob-O has ideas on how he wants to tweak it, once the garden and fire season are over, by adding another water tank at the upper site and putting our whole watering system on the higher pressure.
We have been having, as they say, a bumper crop. We were overrun with lettuce, arugula, and snow peas, so I started traveling down to the campground at the end of our road in Evie, our electric golf cart, to sell produce, along with free-range eggs from my chickens and honey from my bees.
What I found was that, when they are headed out to the sticks, most people come prepared with food. I sold a few items a couple of times, which was okay with me. It was fun. I figured business would pick up when the corn, cucumbers, and tomatoes came in.
It wasn’t very long before the garden exploded. I had more vegetables than ever. My problem now was that no one was camping because a toxic algae bloom had grown in the lake. Warning signs were posted in every campground: Don’t eat the fish; don’t swim; don’t let your dog drink the water.
To add insult to injury, then the wildfires started. Our usually blue summer skies turned gray and smoky. This year’s fires have pretty much surrounded us—but only one was close enough to cause us worry. Luckily for us, the wind pushed that fire away from our homestead.
The cucumbers hit all at once. A daily picking wasn’t enough to keep them in check. Bob-O and I would be on our knees, peering through the green leafy veil of scratchy vines, trying to spot a cuke before it got too large. Invariably, one or the other of us would bound to our feet, proclaiming, “I win!” and holding up an enormous orange-rinded monster.
Every time we went to town, we would drop off a box of cucumbers at the post office. On the way home, we would retrieve our empty box. One morning, we were caught in the act by our postmaster, who was out front raising the flag on the pole. “Okay,” Bob-O said, lugging the big box of cukes inside. “Yes, it’s us. We’re busted.” The postmaster said it was fine—people liked the free cukes.
I was vacuuming one morning while Bob-O and the dog were on a morning walk. A couple of minutes later, I was surprised when he burst back through the door with a neighbor in tow. “I found someone who wants cucumbers,” he announced jubilantly.
I hate to waste food, so I canned, pickled, dried, blanched, and froze some produce every day, trying to keep up with each morning’s harvest. I was on Mother Nature’s clock now. If it was ripe, it got picked; if it was picked, it was dealt with.
Our garden largess has filled our larder, pantry, keep, and freezers. I use just about any preserving method possible, but I do admit to a fascination with food preservation techniques that don’t require using a lot of resources. Each gardening season, I pick up a few new favorite preserving recipes. Each winter, I find out what we really use from the shelves. After three years on the shelf, that chow chow went to the chickens.
One of the things that all of this bounty has taught me about harvesting is to take a second look. When you are harvesting cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, beans, sprouting broccoli, okra, eggplant, and more, you have to view that plant from several angles to see all the ripe fruit. We have thought we picked a plant clean, only to glance back and spot two or three more fruits we missed.
And it’s okay if you can’t use all of your produce. Share it—someone else will be glad for it. And I hope by identifying my donated plants and vegetables as organic and open-pollinated I can educate and change a few minds about gardens, chemicals, and genetically engineered organisms.
I feel really good about providing all of this good food for our family and friends—and people I’ll never meet. At every meal, we identify which ingredients of the meal were grown and/or processed by us. It is a wonderful, powerful feeling and probably the big reason I garden. Well, that and I like to play in the dirt.