Friday, August 23, 2013

Sharing Like I Know What I'm Doing

Earlier in the summer, albeit after they believed the "sweet spot" of the sales period had passed, a local garden center blasted an email to their customers that all remaining tomato plants were discounted to $0 -- limit 10 per household.  I didn't really need any additional tomato plants, but I'm nothing if not a sucker for deals.  I didn't take advantage of the full complement of 10, but I brought home 3 or 4 plants of varieties not already in the garden.  The catch -- isn't there always a catch? -- was the semi-obligatory promise to share some of the resulting tomatoes with the "Tomatofest" held at the garden center at a date to be determined.

Right up there alongside "deal sucker" on my list of character traits is "trustworthiness", and so when the follow-up email showed up in my inbox a couple of weeks ago announcing the date for that aforementioned "fest", I replied with my intent to contribute.  Of course I had no idea if I could fulfill my promise.  I have evidenced precious little control over what ripens when, and in what condition.  The bugs seem to have their gnawing caprice, and despite my ongoing efforts there have been a few rabbit encroachments.  Anything could intervene and rupture the arc connecting commitment and delivery.  As the day approached I relaxed in the confidence that something would be available, even if only a little.

Tomorrow is the day, which meant that today was the requisite delivery.  I stole out to the garden not long after daybreak, harvest hod in hand as a kind of pretense of confidence.  The first row of Brandywines was promising, and a half-dozen were added to the basket.  The Copias, Amish Paste and Black Krim swelled the tally still higher, while the Lolas and Wapsipinicon Peach completed the haul.  Not a bad offering after all.  Back in the house, I sorted and labeled the varieties and loaded them in the car.

I can't quite describe the feeling that buoyed me as I exited the store, having deposited my humble contribution toward tomorrow's festivities.  Pride?  Humility?  Gratification?  Satisfaction?  Some of each, I suspect.  It was, in a sense, the first real public actualization of what I had set out to do:  grow food, and if possible, in ample enough supply as to exceed our family's needs.

My tomatoes wouldn't win any awards -- there are surely bigger ones and prettier ones, and more perfect and perfectly ripened specimens of the varietals.  But these were an effluence that had filtered through my hands, my soil, my perspiration and care.

And I couldn't help but smile.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Colorful Taproots Reflecting Our Own

When we were moving to this acreage almost two years ago, boxes packed with possessions and imaginations packed with dreams, the name "Taproot Garden" sprouted into my consciousness for little predictable reason.  In a sense, I suppose, the garden named itself.  We hadn't talked about naming; I had invested no energies into drafting one.  I'm not entirely sure I knew anything about taproots, short of my passing acquaintance with carrots.  It was a surprise, then, to find this moniker lodged in the center of my awareness, refusing to move until I acknowledged it.  So, with seemingly little say in the matter, we accepted the name's claim on us and our new beginning, and hung it on the door so to speak. 

Shortly thereafter, when I began this running narrative, I noted that taproots were certain plants' instinctual determination to seek an anchoring, stabilizing center from which everything else would emanate.  While some plants send their roots outward, reaching far and wide for those nourishments thriving near the surface, these others reach for deeper grounding.  That sounded a lot like the compelling call that drove us to this fresh initiative unlike anything we had ever done before. 

Little did I anticipate that my most consistent connection with taproots would turn out to be weeds who exerted -- and quite continuously exert -- their prior claim on the property.  Between these deeply moored adversaries under the ground and the rabbits above ground I have ample challenge with which to contend without even inventorying the more pedestrian garden aggravations like soil issues, bugs and weather.  Multiple weeding tools have sacrificed themselves in the offensive; their metal no match for the hardness of the soil and the depth of the roots.  Over time, however, I am better discriminating between the ones that have to go and the ones I can simply ignore.  After all, "nuisance" does not equate with "pernicious."

All of which is preface to the exuberant pleasure I experienced this morning over my first large scale extraction of more desirable namesakes -- the bulk of the "Dragon" carrots (the red ones) I planted this season, and a few of the "Danvers Half Long" carrots (the orange ones).  There are considerably more of the latter yet to dig, and a half-row of recently planted "Purple" carrots that won't be ready until deep into autumn, but the refrigerator is full for now and we need to give their culinary prospects some careful consideration.  In the meantime they are fun to admire...

...and through them, to reconnect with something of the core of our being here; grateful for the deep roots that we, too, are sending down.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Near-forgotten Sound -- and Sight

A gauged argument is underway.  The rain measure on the deck reports 1/2" rainfall last night, while the garden measure insists there was 3/4".  Either way, I'm smiling.

We went to bed last night to the rhythmic pulsations of lightening behind the clouds in the northern sky.  The weatherman during the 10 pm news lamented that the rain would miss us this far south -- this being the last opportunity for showers all week.  The illuminations outside notwithstanding, I resigned myself to a longer dry spell.   In the netherworld of slumber I dreamed I heard some thunder -- and rain splatters on the window -- but I knew it had to be only the precipitation of a longing imagination.  The rain, I knew, was missing us.  The weatherman had said so, and I always accept what the weatherman says as gospel truth (insert "smile" here).

When the dogs dragged me outside for their pre-dawn constitutionals I thought I sensed moisture, but it was yet too dark to see.   The coffee, then, and the paper, and finally the morning light and the rain gauge markings revealed.  Throwing on some clothes, I smiled and thought to use the softened soil as an opportunity for poison ivy control.  The tentacled roots are freer on such occasions and we had noticed a frightening proliferation yesterday near the vegetables.  And I did fill a bucket with miscellaneous weeds encroaching on the dahlias and the offending ivies before the air was alive with a hardly remembered sound, and then the sight...

...of falling rain.  More.  In an instant it was upon the garden and me and for a moment I couldn't decide if I should hurry inside for the dryness or remain where I was and relish the wetness.  I had brought the power wagon down with me with milk jugs filled from the rain barrels by the barn, and I had intended to return it with the gathered branches from our trimming last evening.  Parked there, dripping by the open garden gate I mused that its engine probably didn't need the drenching, so my decision was made.  I turned the ignition, shifted into high, and together we raced for the shelter of the barn.  But I enjoyed the sloshing sprint.

It has been a curious summer.  By this time last year the rain barrels had been dry so long that spiders had spun webs in the faucets.  On the heals of that crippling drought, this summer was ushered in by excessive rains in April and May that flooded crop land all over the state.  And then the floods receded once again into drought -- here, but countered by renewed flooding in other parts of the country.  That, and according to news reports, this year has already seen twice as many "named" tropical storms in the oceans as is the average.  And still there are those who dismiss any concern over climate change.  It could well be that these severe and spasmodic weather systems end up dismissing them, driving the facts of the matter home.

In the meantime, the gauged argument has found some measure of detente.  Both maintain their earlier divergent reports, but both agree that in this light of morning another 1/4" has fallen.  And everything -- bean and gourd and bulb and even ivy -- seems to be smiling and happy.

Most of all, perhaps, me.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Gloria Gaynor Sunflower

Gloria Gaynor Sunflower by Taproot Garden
Gloria Gaynor Sunflower, a photo by Taproot Garden on Flickr.
In 1978 R&B/disco singer Gloria Gaynor released what has since become an iconic anthem of defiance and resiliance titled "I Will Survive." The song topped the pop charts at #1, and later received a Grammy award in 1980 for "Best Disco Recording" -- what some might view to be an oxymoron.

"Did you think I'd crumble?Did you think I'd lay down and die?
Oh, no, not I, I will survive
Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I'll stay alive
I've got all my life to live, I've got all my love to give
And I'll survive, I will survive, I will survive."

It might as well be the theme song of this sunflower whose 8-inch blossom asserted itself in the garden this morning. This would be one of those sunflowers nibbled to a nub outside the old fence by rabbits or some such critters shortly after sprouting this spring. Indeed, it's not growing where I planted it. This is one of those mysterious growths that has emerged serendipitously in the midst of the potato rows -- transplanted, perhaps, by the same rabbits who devoured its siblings -- or the winds, or the floods, or the garden gods. Safely now inside the new fence, it has had the privilege of growing unassaulted.

As it turns out, it has homogeneous neighbors -- 3 or 4 other sunflowers of equal or taller proportion rising up amidst the potatoes, still holding their colors close to the stalk. But any day now they, too, will take their turn on the disco floor and assert to the rabbits and the deer and the birds and me that they, too, will survive -- indeed, have done so.

Blessedly so, thank you very much. You are beautiful, indeed.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Seeing Beyond the Blemishes

It could be a sequel to the story of Goldilocks -- "Goldilocks and the multiple tomatoes."  One is bound to be "too big." 
The one on top is bound to be "too small." 
Perhaps that one on the side is "just right." 

Maybe, but those three foundational orbs in the picture are the first of the Brandywines -- those almost softball-size freighters of exploding flavor.  The granddaddies of the garden.  The motherlode of summer perfection -- no offense dear sweetcorn -- that strikes a holy marriage of sugar and acid.  The tiny cherry ones are sweet.  The Amish Pastes are interesting.  The Cherokee Purple and Black Krim deserve kudos of their own.  But the Brandywines...  Heart be still!

I certainly have much yet to learn.  The cracking is my fault -- a clumsiness for which I owe God, the universe, Mother Nature and the tomatoes themselves an apology of the highest order.  Too much water, according to today's reading, at just the wrong time -- the common mistake of gardeners and parents alike who want too much from their little ones too soon, and whose impatience prompts them to give too much.  And it's true; I was too attentive and too impatient.  I cracked them with kindness. 

But as can be similarly said of those gardeners and parents, the external blemishes and imperfections only hold our eyes for an instant.  Once the insides capture our attention the superficialities fade into forgottenness like email spam. 

And so it is that summer's tomatoes -- the sunbursting, chin-dripping nectars of heaven -- are re-teaching me precious life lessons about what constitutes perfection... produce...

...and people. 

When all is said and done, the cracks don't really matter.  What's really important is the taste of what drips through them, and leads you further toward the meatiness deeper within.