Thursday, September 27, 2012

Wait..What..Not Again!

As June progressed, I finally got all the turnip greens out of my garden, and it seemed things were well on their way to a fabulous summer. I peeled and chopped and canned zucchini and summer squash while dreams of mountains of beans, rivers of sweet peas and bushels of tomatoes danced him my head. Once again, Mother Nature had other plans.

That's right - we have another drought on our hands. Just as my corn was tasseling and the bean pods were plumping, the rains went away. For more than three weeks, not a drop fell from the heavens. When the grass starts crunching under your feet, then you know it's dry out there.

So, I harvested my cucumbers (apparently they like it hot!), and squash and monitored the damages. Both my helpful hubby and my father-in-law pronounced my garden dead on more than one occasion, only to see me harvest baskets of potential pickles. My corn popped inside the husks but the beans popped out in full force, leading to a basket so full I had to have my son carry it to the house.

At last I relented and pronounced the harvest done. Some seeds were extra prolific (Squash of all kinds, cucumbers, pole beans) while others never ever popped through (carrots, peppers, peas). But for what did come up I reaped gold.

My final tally for the first Reece garden is: 20 quarts of beans, 15 pints of pickles and pickle relish, 5 quarts of summer squash and onions, 10 pints of lemon honey jelly, 8 pints of zucchini pickles, and 3 quarts of pickled butternut squash. All in all not a bad haul.

The tomatoes came in slow and never in any great quantities, so I just shared them with friends and co-workers. We got 5 full grown pumpkins, which were ready by the end of July. I am saving mine for Halloween. The biggest failure was no watermelons. I love watermelon in the summer. This year I had to resort to grocery store melon. Boo.

I gathered seeds from all the produce that I could and I intend to try again next year. No winter garden, I'm not ready to fight another battle against turnip greens. No, we are going to plow, rake, plow, rake, and hope for cleaner dirt next spring. I had a lot of fun, recalled a lot of good times with my father, and I wouldn't trade a callous or twinge in my carpal tunnel for anything else. Good times from the simplest thing - a new memory to join the many from childhood.

Thanks for listening to my summer saga. It might not sound like all that much fun, but trust me. It was a blast.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Spring Showers Bring...Road Trips

Once the great Turnip Green disaster of 2012 was averted, I thought for sure my garden was on its way. Seedlings were popping up, squash and cucumber vines began sending out their first runners, and my pumpkins appeared to have been set into pure fertilizer. Visions of fresh vegetables danced through my head at night, and on Sunday mornings I couldn't wait to be on the road to measure the week's progress. Then - another crisis.

From Mother's Day until Father's Day, I was out of town. Not for business, not for fun, but for family issues. First, my 92 year old mother lives with my brother and his family. My sister-in-law was getting a well deserved break and would be gone for two weeks. Since my brother has odd hours (he's a doctor), my sister and I decided to split the assignment between the two of us. So for ten day I 'baby sat' my mother. It was wonderful.

I had always been a Daddy's girl,. My mother and I get along, but I'm a strange child (it says so in my baby book). Only when my dad died early did Mother and I finally come to a mutual place from which to base our adult relationship. When she could no longer drive herself around, my brother moved her into his house in South Carolina. It was the best thing (did I mention she is 92?) and we all agreed it was time, but afterward I discovered it hurt.

Spending ten days sitting with my mom, talking, working crossword puzzles, watching every game show on television, fixing her meals - it was glorious. For really the first time in my adult life we related and bonded and discussed past history which cannot be undone. When Memorial Day weekend rolled around and it was time to go home, I was so sad I didn't even listen to the radio the entire three hour drive. I wanted to just savor the moment.

Well, the next day I returned to my little slice of vegetable heaven, only to discover nothing had been done in 10 days. Okay, in gardening terms, ten days is an entire season. The weeds were taking over. I lost my carrots, my lettuce, my peppers, everything that wasn't a squash, pumpkin, cucumber or beans had simply been overwhelmed. For five hours I pulled and grunted and cursed (again) my city-slicker hubby, but as the sun began to sink over the horizon there was a semblance of order in my plot.

Then, less than a week later, my aunt died. Back out of town I go, knowing that when I returned there would be more weeds to wrangle, plus they were cutting hay that week. I prayed no one would run over the pumpkins, which by this time had already started to bloom. Returning six days later, I raced up the expressway only to discover - more zucchini and summer squash than Carter has Little Pills (obscure 60's reference - look it up!).

When I say zucchini, I mean green blimps! These monsters were at least 7 pounds a piece and as long as my arm. Nothing close to the grocery store zucchini. My first thought was: did I plant the wrong seeds? But then I looked at summer squash and they were enormous yellow pillows! You think I am kidding? One summer squash made a casserole that fed three people for four days! My hubby asked if I bought the seeds from some mutant source. They were huge and they didn't stop coming for weeks. Even my usually eager town friends were saying no thanks, we've had enough.

Harvesting everything that was ready took two extra large storage tubs from Wal Mart. After some more weeding (those turnip greens were stubborn little twits), I left knowing that upcoming weekend I would again be out of town - this time for a family wedding in Ohio!

Well, the gardening fun didn't stop there. Next time, we will discuss who knows more: my city boy husband, or me?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Spring Planting (Or Replanting?)

Once we decided to do a garden this year, the decision on what to plant was left up to me with hubby's stamp of approval. Corn, beans, peas, tomatoes, watermelons - all standard Georgia garden fare. With the ground prepared and the seeds ready we set out the rows and off to the races we went. All the squashes, beans, peas, melons, in three short hours we had seeded an area more than 1000 square feet. Happy and pleased with a job well done, we headed off for our first week of waiting.

Anxiously I watched the weather report, glad when radar showed rain heading in our general direction. The weekend took forever to come around again. Sunday morning arrived at last and I bounced in the car like a kid on the way to see Santa. Just when I could wait no more, we turned down the street, up the long winding driveway, then past the garden. I could see little green shoots beginning to poke through as we headed to the main house.

Church seemed to drag that morning, and lunch was forever. Just when I thought I would burst from anticipation, we arrived back at the farm. Changing into work clothes I race out to my little slice of heaven to find...

Turnip greens. That's right, turnip greens popping up all over my nicely plotted garden.

Imagine my surprise. Covering the entire garden, in my neat straight rows and in between, anywhere there was a spare inch of fertilized earth, were little turnip green leaves. Apparently the previous fall, for a winter garden, one of the helpers on my father-in-law's farm had planted turnips, harvested the greens but left the turnips themselves in the ground. With the warmer weather and the fertile spring rains, those little suckers just popped right out, heedless to the fact they are winter crops that cannot survive the hot Georgia summers.

So my first full Sunday as a gardener was spent identifying and pulling little turnip greens while trying to not pull up actual seedlings that were wanted. This is when I discovered what a non-outdoors man I married. He couldn't identify weeds from plants, didn't like having to pull so many wrong plants, and within 45 minutes had abandoned me completely to sit on the front porch drinking ice tea while I sweat and pulled and cursed turnips with my every fiber.

I was not amused.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Welcome To My Mid-Life Crisis

This fall I will turn fifty, a point of dread for me since my mother turned fifty. Of course I was only 8 at the time and thought my mother would shrivel up and die. I mean, really - half a century seemed ANCIENT! Of course, as the magic age has steadily approached my opinion has changed. I know I won't shrivel up once my birthday arrives. Or at least I hope not.

But in preparation for this momentous occasion I decided to learn new skills, or resurrect skills not used since my childhood. First up on the list: plant a garden for the purpose of canning and freezing food for the winter.

My father's family were farmers and every year, no matter where we lived, there was always a garden. Fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, not to mention trips to the big farmer's market would provide plenty of fresh vegetables for the months when good produce was hard to find. While it isn't such a necessity to have a personal garden any more, nothing can beat the taste of good, fresh produce.

Helpful hubby promised to be of assistance and my father-in-law plowed the garden up at his farm, about an hour north of where we live. After carefully searching the Internet for heirloom seeds (plants which can produce seeds for replanting) I made my selections and off we went to create our first garden together in 25 years of marriage.

Little did I know that I have married the only man in North Georgia to never have spent any time in a garden!

Join me for my series: So... You Want to Plant a Garden! as I provide a play-by-play commentary on my summer project. It will make you laugh. I promise!