From the Backyard… Life, Death and Morality in the Garden

  |  November 3, 2014

We’ve managed to consume and/or give away all the Swiss chard just in time to save it from frosty night temperatures. It’s been an intense week—steaming and sautéing greens, making chard pie (it’s sort of like spanakopita), cleaning and blanching whole leaves to pack in freezer bags—but it had to be done. There’s an obligation not to waste what you’ve grown. And when you’re racing against winter, the weather puts a new spin on “eat your greens.”

Meanwhile, the garlic cloves we planted in early October for next June’s harvest, all 150 of them, have begun to sprout due to the milder autumn weather. This is not a good thing. If these babies are not covered in more soil and mulch right away, they, too, will freeze and perhaps die. NO! Garlic is LIFE! Must bundle up and get out there to save them.

This gardening business is taking on moral overtones. When we dug up the lawn to grow veggies, I didn’t foresee the guilt I’d feel over having neglected the tomatoes for even one overly hot day in August. Aiming the hose at the dry dirt at the base of each plant, I apologized (out of earshot of my gardening partners, of course). I carefully flooded their beds without splashing on the leaves so as not to attract thirsty pests or cause some tragic disease to develop. I hoped I hadn’t maimed them irreparably. And when our radish seeds popped up out of the ground and grew into spindly looking gnarls—instead of bulbing under the soil as fat, red store-bought ones do—I took it personally, as if I’d birthed a damaged baby from smoking and drinking too much. You know—like it was my fault we had mutant radishes. I fed them to the chickens down the road, who didn’t care about their looks.

Fortunately, we’ve had bumper crops of green beans (including some cute, continental-looking haricot vert), lettuces of all varieties, monster cucumbers, and enough basil to keel over from pesto consumption (is that possible?). And one year our butternut squashes spread all over the fenced-in garden like it had been treated with nuclear energy from a source underground. We harvested more than 40 butternuts that fall. (They did not glow.)

So it goes. We happily consume our successes. Our failures get turned into compost and go back into the earth. Better luck next year.

About Ann Hutton

Freelance writer Ann Hutton lives in upstate New York’s lush Hudson Valley. Her work has appeared in the Catskill Mountain Region Guide, Hudson Valley Magazine, Kaatskill Life Magazine, Green Door Magazine, Upstate House and Chronogram, and in Ulster Publishing’s community weeklies: Woodstock Times, Saugerties Times, Kingston Times, and New Paltz Times. A graduate of Union Institute and University at Vermont College, Ann is currently writing a motorcycle memoir with the working title Sitting in Motion: One Woman’s Midlife Adventure on Two Wheels.

Read more from Ann Hutton

Read On, Reader...