Summer begins with an anticipatory austerity. After springtime’s exuberant flush of greens and yellows, the garden rows split and envelop seeds and seedlings, nestling and coaxing them with rich soil and compost and protective mulch. And then we wait.
I don’t mean that there is nothing to do. In a matter of days the weeds appear, requiring a cultivating hand. There is moisture to consider, and watchfulness against marauding bugs and care for errant vines. We keep busy; but payoffs are yet remote. A garden, I have concluded, is the quintessential exercise in delayed gratification. There are, of course, tantalizing foretastes. Lettuces come quickly, along with spinach and radishes. But the bread and butter of the effort – the meat and, well, potatoes of the extended investment – involve waiting. Indeed, I can get so caught up in the undulating labors of the long season – hypnotized by the weeding, the watering, the trellising – that I allow the first fruits to rot on the stem, unnoticed.
But eventually that all changes. By this time of year the garden has shaken loose an avalanche of fruit, burying those earlier pessimisms about low and disappointing yields. The rooster’s morning crow is drowned out daily by the cacophonous cry from the garden, “Pick me! Pick me! My arms are breaking from the weight.”
Menus amp up with the harvest. Every meal represents an agricultural celebration. But still there is more. There is the frequent lament over the cucumber newly discovered that, in its hiddenness, has swelled to such dirigible dimensions
as to be beyond the table. And the suffocating kale begging to be thinned. And the stew pot full of tomatoes – at least those not reserved for the now-repetitive BLT’s. And still there is more. No matter how heavily I harvest the okra, tomorrow the bushes are ornamented with more. And the peppers, clustered and swelling, are just now coloring and waiting there turn. And still there is more.
And…it is all too much to gather and consume.
And then we remember the stealthy, inexorable approach of winter, when all thoughts of harvest are distant memories coupled with fanciful anticipation. Winter, when we harvest out of freezers and canning jars and containers of dehydrated treasures. If, that is, we have made conscientious use of abundance
It’s an age old problem, this abundance/scarcity alternation; which is why our ancestors learned to make cheese to preserve excess milk, cure meat to extend protein consumption beyond the slaughter, and ferment vegetables to stretch the garden’s goodness beyond summer. Etc.
And so it is that this weekend we began preserving in earnest. The dehydrators have long-since been fired up repeatedly in response to the deluge of tomatoes, but recent days have been animated by root vegetables roasting and pickling – beets and turnips and daikons – and kimchi fermenting. Freezer shelves are groaning under the weight of okra bags, and greens won’t be far behind – the kale and collards and chard – with peppers quickly following.
All because winter is approaching, and we intend to be happily healthy then, too…
…while we browse through the seed catalogues, dreaming of spring.