Day By Day: With the fall comes what else -- thoughts of food and flies
For some people around here the end of summer is signaled by Pepper Fest. For others it is the state fair over there, and for the half-empty crowd, everything just speeds by to the start of school following Booster Days. I think it starts when the first tomatoes show up at the farmers' market and flies come inside. It's the beginning of the end.
My dad and I usually put up at least two dozen quarts of tomato juice and freeze just about as much sweet corn. But this year was different. Dad, who is a healthy 94, decided a big garden and a couple of acres of sweet corn just weren't in the cards this year. His sweet corn stand in the parking lot of the Greystone Bar in Bayport was infamous and he has spent most of the summer breaking the news to customers anxiously awaiting his crop that there wouldn't be one this year. It's bad news to everybody but it has done him a world of good knowing his efforts are missed.
As for me, I still have a few packages of last year's corn left and a couple of quarts of juice in the cupboard but I have to admit to missing that special little pop the jar lids make when the seal is just right. Dad grew us some great plants from seed and I am picking tomatoes every day but my patch is nothing like Dad's with its straight rows all tied up neatly and pulled clean of weeds. My plants are doing well considering they are all running into each other with fruit laying on the ground and some weeds about as tall as me. I am only grateful that tomatoes are red and easily seen through tangled vines.
Growing up on our farm, we always had two gardens -- the sand hill for tomatoes and melons, and the one by the pond for everything else with the sweet corn patch moving from place to place every year. I can't say I liked to garden when I was a kid. I don't think a one of us did back then including my mother. She liked the harvest end of things because it meant good food for the table and the pantry but the in between wasn't fun for anybody. But every week or so she would get after us, using that phrase we all hated to hear. "Come on kids, let's fly at it!"
Her enthusiasm was hardly catching, maybe because it wasn't all that credible to begin with. I can still see the sorry stream of kids dragging their bare feet along the dusty road up to the sand hill. Everybody tried to come up with some excuse to get out of weeding but Mom was wise to all the excuses and the delaying tactics. That's what raising eight kids and teaching for 30 years will do to a person.
No, when she made up her mind it was a garden day, it was better to accept your fate and just go quietly. It was a little better in the years after my brother Mike got a transistor radio. He was a devoted KDWB fan in the early '60s and watching him hoe a row to "Wake Up Little Susie" by the Everly Brothers or sing along with the Beach Boys about an ocean and lifestyle we knew nothing about made the weeds pull easier and the sun not so hot. It is just one of the million things I miss about my big brother.
Dad was busy with the cows and the fields in those days and he really didn't get involved in the gardens too much except during planting. That's when he made his special "tea" to get things growing fast. The prime ingredient was of course top quality manure from our herd of Holsteins. That, mixed with our equally high quality and deliciously cold well water, made for a recipe that makes Miracle Gro seem like Kool-Aid.
My favorite job was following behind my Dad as he prepared holes for the tomatoes along the incredibly straight rows only his eye could divine, filling each one with a coffee can full of the recipe. It was a sign you were getting older when he would let you actually drop the plants in, and it got even better when he let you mix the dirt and the tea together around the plant and set the magic in motion. Just remember to plant them on a slant so there will be lots of roots.
One of his favorite things to do for more than 50 years ago right up until last year was to watch those plants go from a reclining position to standing straight and strong, reaching for the sun.
This year I've gathered most of my produce from the farmers' markets nearby. I love the smell that peppers give off and all the fresh herbs and wonderful Asian treats to be deliciously discovered. The growers there are a great cross section of people who all probably love growing things as much as my Dad. I'm just glad I got to see it done his way.