Last harvest

Saturday September 29, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- No more zucchini.

I should be glad. People are always complaining about too much squash ... squash the size of cricket bats, squash you can't give away, squash that hangs around in the vegetable crisper until it desiccates into something like soppy bones.

I can't do anything about the bounty, of course. It runs counter to my mission and my essence to do anything less than make and grow, to set budding more, and still more, flowers for the bees, to send every stalk and vine up and out as far as weather and soil will allow.

Lucky for you, then, who tire of picking zucchini and green beans, that limits exist. The soil is worn out now, even with the last spreading of fresh compost. Cold nights curl tender leaves into bitter brown fingers. I am dying back, day by day.

It is the time of year when I, along with the bears and parents of young children, long to sleep. Before, in March, I was impatient for you to mix the Azomite or the bat guano, the seaweed or the cow manure, the greensand or the limestone into the beds. It is the cup of coffee I long for all winter. I wake and I vibrate and I call all living things to me -- grubs, robins, worms, spiders, beetles, chickens, crows, skunks, moles.

You. I call you.

How we love each other at first. Remember? Every year, it's the same affair, my glorious fertility inspiring you to work harder, plant more, even when you know you won't be able to eat the fruit of 12 pepper plants. Come late summer you'll have to stay up past midnight slicing them into right-size rounds for the dehydrator, or making sauce from the 40 pounds of tomatoes you picked today and then, dear heaven, canning it all on your narrow electric stove.

August is a time we are more irritable with one another ... it's true. You haven't kept up with the weeds, making me feel like my hair is tangled and matted into entirely unbecoming dreadlocks. I could not figure out the puzzle of this or that plant -- onions, forgive me, the thrips and the rain were more than I could overcome -- and I feel the explosion of the mint patch like an acne breakout in middle age.

But we meet in the cherry tomatoes still, as we will meet in the potatoes in another month or so, as we swing together through late spinach and the everlasting kale. The sweetness blunts the rough labor I ask of you now. Each day you rip up another row of once-fecund plants and hurl them to the compost pile. It's our form of deep tissue massage, rather more violent than therapeutic, but necessary and welcome.

I want to be free of these old encumbrances, the broccoli long gone to seed, the watermelon vines like thin brown webbing now. Take up the irrigation pipes. Take out the wire half-hoops that held white row cover aloft in the cool spring nights. Take down the fences against rabbits and deer. Take the cracked vegetable tags you poked so proudly next to tiny zinnias and perky Brandywines. I don't need the dignity of names.

What you must plant and what you hope to overwinter (I understand the need for hope in February, even when there is no snow), mulch well and forget. I'll keep the garlic and the parsnips safe, as I best I can.

Make your winter greenhouses humble and well chosen, just enough to serve the mouths you need to feed. Otherwise, add the last amendments to the soil and walk away. Silence and retreat are necessary for our marriage to last. I am tired, and I want to be alone.

Except -- don't leave. Not yet.

When the hard frosts finally hit, come to the Brussels sprouts. With gloved hands, break off the hard nubs, the miniature cabbage-like leaves packed tight with spice and the sweet that surges with the cold. Strip off the gloves when the frost and dew turn them sodden and pick more sprouts with your bare, dear hands.

Fill a bucket, fill a pan, take everything I have left. It's for you. It was all always for you and your family of children and worms and robins and rabbits and gnats and swallows and moles.

Take it all. I will come back. Now let me go.

Becky Karush is a regular contributor to the Reformer. To suggest people to be profiled in the "Neighbors" column, write to her at reformer.ourneighbors


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions