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Urban harvest


October 19, 2012
By Gwen Ruff , The Journal

Randy's busy with corn and soybean harvest, so he asked me to fill in again.

"Geez, I'm pretty busy with my own harvest," I told him.

First, I've got to get my raised beds cleaned out. It was a great year for skinny purple eggplant and okra in my Richfield yard. I ate those every night for several weeks, sauted with summer squash, cherry tomatoes and fresh basil. OK, it got a little repetitive, but I didn't buy groceries for a while. Pretty soon, I'll start on the winter squash. I should be a nice shade of orange after a few weeks of my exclusive squash diet.

It wasn't such a great year for my heirloom tomatoes. I put them in too shady a spot, and as each one ripened I kept thinking, "I'll give it one more day," only to find it half chewed up on the ground the next morning. And my pole bean crop stunk after some baby rabbits got under the chicken wire and ate the plants off down to the dirt Fourth of July week. My 83-year-old neighbor has no sympathy for cute little bunnies, but I exact no revenge.

So, I've got dead tomato plants to yank out, old bean vines to untangle from my tall chain-link fence, beets to dig and lots of chicken wire to roll up. Then I have to repaint my wooden raised bed to match the recycled black plastic ones, so said neighbor stops looking over and shaking her head.

Next it's on to cutting back raspberry bushes - another great disappointment after I went to visit my daughter in Washington, D.C. during the hottest week of the summer, and her brother let the entire crop dry up without picking one of the berries. He's 25, so missing out on a whole summer of fresh raspberries isn't as big a deal to him as it is to someone older - like me.

I actually mourned those berries for a couple weeks. I get really attached to everything I grow. I even hate tossing out the catalpa seedlings that sprout everywhere in my yard, which is a whopping one quarter of an acre with nine catalpa trees. I remember picking up catalpa blossoms from underneath my grandmother's tree and admiring the orchid-like shape and subtle colors. My trees are gorgeous when they're all in bloom, and the yard actually smells fragrant.

Then the work starts. Any gigantic seed pods lasted through the winter give up just before the trees bloom. A bit of a challenge to mow over, but it's good exercise, and I'm a good customer at the lawn mower repair shop. After the blossoms fall, they turn brown and crispy, especially after a few days in the early summer sun. Easy to mow and bag. Summer is pretty uneventful in catalpa world while the large leaves fully emerge and the new seed pods grow, and grow and grow. Catalpas are one of the trees that can drop their leaves all at once, silently, at night, so you wake up and think "Dang, I wanted to get a root canal after work, but now I've gotta come home and bag leaves."

I make about four passes with the lawn mower to shred and bag the leaves, but I hate yanking and throwing the catalpa seedlings, like I had more to do with their new life than just moving into this house. I don't know what I'd do if I was a farmer, where every little piece of seed corn and every little round soybean would be the only thing between my family and starvation and destitution. How would I stand the months of no rain without being able to turn on my telescoping sprinkler to cover the Armenian cucumbers and Mortgage Lifters and Detroit Dark Reds on my land? How could I sit idly by when frost is predicted knowing I couldn't cover the soybean sprouts with my son's old Thomas the Tank engine set of sheets? If the combine stopped for a reason more complicated than running out of gas, I'd probably start crying.

Real farmers have real worries, but as an urban gardener I'm easily crushed. We spend all winter poring over catalogs and magazines; we get visions of beauty and bounty that are hard to dislodge. I don't notice any copies of Artistic Farming or Great Beds, Borders and Field Rows lying around at Randy's.

But we both appreciate the sense of accomplishment from putting our little pieces of the earth to rest for another year. My garden beds shoveled, raked and empty are a bittersweet sight, but there's something appealing about my graphic, square shapes under the catalpa trees, just as there is with the ridged furrows of farm fields. It's an ending, like a movie fading to black dirt, but it's also the raw material for a beginning, even if it's only next season's yard work.



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