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Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Garden-to-Be

A few years ago, we felt we should reduce our "acreage" in the main garden, so I took an iron rod, set it up in the approximate middle, and with a rope attached to the rod, made a circle about sixty feet across, planting garlic to mark the edge as I went. The garlic is up now, and one can see the size of the garden-to-be. Beloved came out to see what I had done.

"Whoa! That's way too small! ... where do the brassicas go?"

"Right here."

"Uh-huh. And the squash?"

"Sort of over here."

"Right. And the cucumbers, -- and -- and -- where does the pumpkin patch go?" Her voice seemed a bit at this point.

"Right back here...no problem, really! Honest!"

"And your corn, beans, tomatoes and potatoes?"

"Uh, well, I thought I'd revive my little beds up in the orchard."

"I thought we were going to have a 'smaller' garden!"

"Well, that's what I remember us both saying, so I've cut this one in half. But if you need it all, I can always go back there. And the trees will need watering anyway, so I might as well..."

Etc., etc.

I figured, with all the quart jars of tomato sauce still in the pantry, I can get by on only four tomato plants this year. But I've already got a flat of two-inch pots. I

f they all make it, that's 32 plants.

Who's going to kill 28 of those little lovelies?

But let me tell you about our first year here.

I had a big tiller at the time, and dug up not one but three gardens. Beloved got the well-draining little one for spring and fall brassicas and peas, I got the orchard one, and we both got the big one. I decided to put out four kinds of tomatoes: Romas, Better Boys, Sweet 100's and some vining cherries.

So I did a flat of each, figuring on some die-off. Nope. All healthy little beasties. This was early in February, as I was having some kind of light-deprivation fit and had to grow something. So I spent the spring mostly repotting and repotting until the tomatoes were shoving the lids off the cold frames.

After ruthlessly giving away all the plants that anyone who knew me would take, I still had 72 tomato plants. So I put them all in the ground. I had forgotten to lime, so there was some blossom-end rot, but not much, as it had fallowed a few years. There were tomatoes, tomatoes, and tomatoes. Big ones, little ones, round ones, pointy ones. I gathered all the pointy ones and sauced till I dropped.

The pantry shelves groaned.

I chased the kids through the cherries and Sweet 100's and told them that was their dinner for tonight -- and all month, same menu. I sliced the big round ones and added them to every conceivable dish. But more kept coming.

One day, late in August, I picked a perfect one-pound Better Boy and looked at it in misery and disgust. A surfeit of your favorite things will, sooner or later, turn you against them, and with a kind of strangled cry I pitched the tomato as high in the air as it would go. It came down in the middle of the duck pen with a satisfying splapp! of water-balloonish disintegration.

One of the ducks ambled over to see what the fuss was all about. Idly, almost absentmindedly, she nipped at the remnants of the once-proud Better Boy. I could almost see, from across the creek, her small eyes widen.

"Eureka!"

She burbled to the others in Duckish, which was a mistake, as the others came boiling out of the shade to take the rest of the prize from her.

Ah, said I to myself. Duck food! I threw bombs into the sky with abandon, and as three were coming down among the ducks, three more were launching into the air. At about this moment the neighbor, a tradition-minded stalwart citizen of some seventy-two years, decided he had better investigate.

"So, uh, what are we doing today?" came his voice, from right behind the merry bomber's back.

"Oh, hi, Mr. Trueblood! Feeding the ducks!" I launched three more missiles. The ducks, who by now had gorged themselves, showed no further sign of appetite and were mostly just dodging the incoming shells.

"Right. Feeding the ducks. Well, nice weather, huh?" He watched me closely for signs of more erratic behavior, but none was forthcoming; my arms were tired.

Every day until frost, though, I fed the ducks. It was good for my pitching arm, they clearly liked tomatoes a great deal, and were good for about fifteen Better Boys a day.

The next year, I put in thirty-two plants.

The year after that, sixteen.

This year, four for sure. Well, maybe eight?

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