Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fruit of Summer's Labor

Growing up in Richfield Springs, as a teenager, I had a lot of work to do around the house and yard. Spending those years in a 20 room Victorian, with four younger brothers, meant a lot of housework and upkeep. Along with helping with dishes, cooking, cleaning, dusting, vacuuming, laundry, and helping to raise the younger boys, there were 3 acres of lawn to be mowed, along with other outdoor duties.

I learned to like lawn mowing when we got a lawn tractor, as I could spend hours outside by myself riding around and around and around. Should someone call to me or need me to do something else, I could always say that I couldn't hear them over the noise of the mower.

Of course, there were ways to mow the lawn, as the step child of the wicked stepfather. "Straight lines perpendicular to the the front of the house, parallel to the house on the side, and in a square box formation in the back." I learned how important this was one day when the wicked step-father came home, after I had mowed the entire lawn, and he made me go back out and re-mow the whole thing, in the afore-described manner, so the lines the mower made matched his expectations.

Now that I think of it, I could probably get a job mowing for the National Baseball League...I think I know how to mow those checkerboard patterns into the grass!

The chore I liked the least was working in the garden. We had a large vegetable garden every year. The minute the weather looked like it might be warming, and thankfully up north those warm days didn't set in until late May or early June, we'd have to be out in the garden, seemingly every available minute, hoeing, turning soil, and planting, then weeding, watering, pruning, picking and washing whatever was there. We're not talking a 16' by 16' garden here, not even 25' by 25'...this one was almost a quarter acre. In retrospect, we could have probably hired someone to work there 8 hours a day, all week long each week, and still not have kept up with it.

Everyone was out there at some point during the day. My brother next to me, the middle brother who spent most of his time sitting on the ground wailing about having to do anything, and my mother, with twin babies in car seats in the furrows between the corn stalks. It was an obsession. Not ours, but that of the wicked stepfather. However, the more work done outside resulted in more peace and quiet inside.

It was not a pleasant day when the wicked stepfather came home and found weeds in his garden. My mother would push us out there the minute we got up, before school, and after school, and all day during summer vacation, and implore us to get it in pristine garden shape...she's woo us with cookies and cakes, money and, as we got older, use of her car...anything not to have to hear about the garden.

One year, I was put in charge of the carrots. I was the carrot-meister...the wicked stepfather was German; 'meister' means mayor. I told the wicked step-father's mother, the evil step-grandmother. that I was the "Carrot Meister." She shook her head, said something in German that I didn't understand, and probably wasn't very nice, and turned around stomping back to her trailer.

Whatever, it was my little joke. I planted them, watered them, weeded around them, and then got the job of harvesting and cleaning them. "Have those things done by the time I get home," the wicked stepfather imparted on his way to work that a.m. The "Carrot Meister" had his marching orders.

If it were ten or twelve plants, I'd have had then picked, washed, pared, and sliced by lunch time. Ready for blanching and freezing, I could have whipped that out too, as I made formula for the twins.

However, there were several rows of carrots. I do not remember how many bushels of carrots I ended up dealing with that day, but the thought of hand washing all of those carrots was overwhelming. Carrying some of them into the house towards the kitchen sink I spied the washing machine. Why not? I grabbed a knife, starting the washer on cold wash, cold rinse, and snipped off the tops of one after the other dropping the carrots into the machine. As it started it's cycle, I could see the dirt slipping away from them all. The gentle cycle worked wonders and, as I saw a clean one make its turn to the top, I'd grab the carrot out of the tub and put it into a bowl I had set on the dryer. I was very careful not to overload it, the water got really dirty and I wanted to be sure to be able to see them surface. I went through the whole day's harvest in short order.

The problem arose, after they were all cleaned, when the washer wouldn't clear itself of all of the dirt. Seems some of the larger clumps couldn't make their way out of the little holes on the inside of the machine and a number of pebbles accumulated in the bottom. My mother came through the door just as I was scooping out a rather large nasty bit of loam and she just about fainted. I know what went through her mind. The wicked stepfather would no doubt walk in on this production and go through the roof now that I "ruined" the washer.

She had me put the carrots in the kitchen and put some in the sink, to pretend that I washed them there, and she started numerous washes in the machine to clean it out. She was correct in her assumption that the wicked stepfather would show up during this production...he came home early that day, "Just because." (I often thought he had the house wired and would come home when the dialogue led him to believe that we were 'up to something.') He did think that the carrots looked especially clean, whew, and he never found out about the washer escapade, double whew!

The whole point of this story is that, during my hours of gardening and harvesting and cleaning, I would think that there had to be a better way, and I found it. Perennials and vegetable stands.

At my house, in the Spring, I watch flowers come up in my front yard garden, a 16' by 8' spot of perennial flowers that I accumulated over several years, and under the overhang, a 3' by 8' spot, some thistle, chives and sage, and some other interesting plants. In the back yard my herb circle, where mint and oregano come up annually with no more work on my part than opening the door to go outside to look at them.

Down the road, in either direction from our house, are vegetable stands. They have all sorts of vegetables and fruits that have been harvested and cleaned (and no doubt benefited from someone's care and weeding), and I have all of that saved time to do other things.

Off to the side of the back yard, we have an apple tree. This year it has put out the most apples ever. All I did was watch the snow melt off it, see the apple blossoms bloom, and investigate, from time to time, the bulbs that have now formed into fruit.

I do enjoy a little gardening, but nothing on the scale of the mega-gardens of my past. To be honest, I might like a nice vegetable garden, but our soil is poor and our oak trees block any hope of sun for the hours needed to pull everything out of the ground. And, given the time and effort it takes, purchasing our vegetable needs is probably cheaper, I'm conserving our water for our other needs (showering, laundry, cooking, and those little scotch and water events) and, I'm fairly certain, the wife might have something to say about the use of the Maytag come harvest day!

I wonder. If you put washed lettuce in the dryer on the air cycle, would it get rid of the excess water??? Hmmmm...maybe I'll try a little garden next year!

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