Victory Harvest

Receiving a bumper crop when it's really needed

by Joe Honton

This spring I planted a victory garden, and now that the harvest is coming in, I'm declaring victory!

Initially, the garden was meant to be a diversion from the pandemic's stay-at-home order. But as the spring seedlings hardened into fighting plants, it became much more.

For instance, my morning routine changed: it began with an hour of outdoor fussing about, instead of an hour indoors with emails and notifications. My afternoon wind-down changed too: it became a time to dig and hoe and coddle the young plants, replacing the time I would have otherwise spent watching more somber news.

Those two changes to my daily routine have meant less time worrying over probabilities, and more time meditating on possibilities.

By early July all that watering and weeding began to pay off. The first small rewards were brought into the kitchen and joyfully prepared into soups and stews.

With those early pickings were hopes of future abundance. And sure enough, two weeks later the daily harvest was being measured not in handfuls, but in two-gallon buckets!

Well that was unexpected. In my lifetime I've always struggled with vegetables, never seeming to win the fight against the elements. So when I started this year's garden I began with curtailed hopes. "I'll be happy if I get enough tomatoes for one or two canning sessions, . . . if I get enough cucumbers for my lunch, . . . if I get enough kabucha to share with friends."

But instead of slim pickings, I got a bumper crop. Tomatoes: I'll be canning my third batch soon, with still more varieties on the vine and plenty of warm days ahead. Cucumbers: I've eaten four quarts of refrigerator cucumbers, canned ten quarts of pickles, and have a bucket of salt-and-vinegar cucumbers fermenting on the counter. Kabucha: a superabundance, more than enough to last from now through next year. (Actually, dire straights now that my friends are on to the gig and know how to turn away so many unsolicited donations.) Butternut squash: also in abundance, enough to last well past Thanksgiving. Peppers -- shisito and bell: added to every hot meal this past month.

All of this from a square plot measuring just 10 meters on each side! I'm not sure what or who to thank for the bounty: the weather, persistence, providence? But I am grateful.

While this was coming in, the plum tree begged to be picked, yielding plenty for the refrigerator and plenty more for counter-top snacking. Our pear tree wasn't to be outdone: it ripened up enough for a seven-quart canning session of fresh-cut halves, plus seven pints of orange-rind compote. And at the moment, the apple tree is sagging under the weight of its fruit. I'll be shifting into apple pie mode as soon as the temperature begins to drop.

Of course anyone with fruit trees knows that they produce too much, too fast, and that friends are the best way around the problem. So naturally when we were offered several basketfuls of fresh figs from overburdened friends, we knew that we had better feign gratitude than say no thanks — even though we already had more than we could handle. But the feint wasn't necessary after all — the fridge now has three pints of super delicious fig jam.

To be sure, not everything was a success. Cantaloupe: three. Watermelon: one. Blue hubbard squash: one. Eggplant: a handful, finger sized. Beets: next to nothing. Onions: zip, nada, zilch.

My worry at the start of the project was how to protect everything from the animals. But the big predators were less problematic than expected: the deer, badgers, raccoons, and skunks never made it over or under the three foot rabbit fence. The turkeys were too lazy to fly that high so they were no problem either.

But the underground guys were a different story. One big gopher snake at the beginning of the season: a welcome sight. A hundred or so fence lizards of every size, also very welcome. But one mole at the very beginning, when the plants weren't fully established, aargh!

And the gophers. Oh, the gophers. In my idealistic moments I fancy the notion that I'm sharing the bounty and they can take what they need. But in reality, the thefts in broad daylight got up my ire. All those weeks and weeks of care, not just nibbled away, but wrecked with ruthlessness.

Yet somehow, mysteriously, even though it felt like my battles with the underground weren't succeeding, I was actually winning the war. The harvest tally proves it.

My original impulse for this project was to keep busy, and to stave off the boredom of confinement. Thus, my hyperbole from April of this year, in My Perfect Cabin Fever Antidote was meant to launch me into action. Lo and behold, six months later, I really do have a victory garden.

With all that's gone on this year, I needed it.

Victory Harvest — Receiving a bumper crop when it's really needed