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The Humble Gardener

At University of Illinois Extension, our volunteers are at our core. Hear their voice on this volunteer driven blog.
green tomatoe

Gleaning the Garden


Chip and I reluctantly admitted that the beautiful fall weather we had been enjoying must inevitably come to an end, and with this thought in mind, we ventured outside last weekend to finish the last of the gardening cleanup. Accompanied by two dogs and an aging tiller, we headed out to finish this year's harvest and put the vegetable gardens to bed. Birds waited patiently near empty feeders, squirrels chittered, combines worked in a nearby bean field, and the sun warmed us. Not bad conditions for the task at hand.

I started on the tomato section of the hill, tossing green and red tomatoes in a carton, pulling the framework that we use to tie our tomato plants, and making sure the strings and clips were tucked away in a corner of the carton, safe from the tiller's tines. I removed the plants. Chance, the old dog, plopped next to me, sniffing at tomatoes. Sighing disdainfully, he settled down for a nap while the morning sun beat down on him. Even though he was in the way, he has seniority and tenure. His snoring filled the air.

In another part of the garden, Chip fired up the tiller and began to till the potato patch. Ike, the younger dog, stood poised, ready to respond to any move Chip made. (Ike looks at Chip like Nancy used to gaze at Ronald Reagan, adoration and attention focused totally on Chip.) I finished the tomatoes and moved to the pepper patch.

This year we planted a scorching hot variety (tongue numbing; maybe my dentist could use it in lieu of Novocain), purple bell peppers, and paprika peppers among the old standbys. I picked them, washed them, and put them in an open weave pan and put them on the smoker next to ribs smoking for our dinner. After a couple of hours, we will put them in the dehydrator and let them dry for a couple of days, then put them in the food processor-sans stems- and pulverize them. A judicious half teaspoon transforms a dull entree into a delicious dinner. Chance slept on, Ike guarded Chip, the smoker smoked, and the sun shone down.

As I carried plants to the weed pile, I passed the empty feeders. The chilly air reminded me that the birds expected refills, so I grabbed the feeders and went to nearby trash cans-metal to deter the pesky squirrels-and served up a tasty breakfast of millet, milo, and sunflower seeds.

I started in on the eggplants. We love this vegetable and always plant different varieties. I gleaned the last of them and pulled the plants, mentally thinking of the side dish to serve with Chip's ribs. I was dimly aware that Ike had left Chip and was staring intently towards the bottom of the hill. I laughed as I saw two squirrels dangling from the shepherd hooks, focused intently on the sunflower seeds in the feeders. The great Wallendas they weren't. I returned to my task.

I saw a blur of white in my peripheral vision, watched as a mass of sparrows rose from the feeders, and saw a small squirrel head disappear into Ike's huge mouth. Ike whirled and raced up the hill. I started after him, tripping over Chance, yelling for Ike to stop, fearful of traffic if he got to the road. Chance raised his head, saw the squirrel tail, and apparently thought that was more enticing than peppers and tomatoes. He joined the parade. Chip looked up, saw the three stooges (and the squirrel) racing up the hill, and shut off the tiller.

We all reached the top of the hill and saw Ike innocently standing in the middle of a mowed lot. I finally had enough breath to explain to Chip what I had seen. Chip called Ike to him, and he reluctantly came. "Fetch it up," Chip commanded. Ike looked at Chip, pretending he had never heard that command before. I started laughing. Meanwhile, Chance's long unused hunting instincts had him heading for the tall grass bordering the mowed lot. Ike whirled, raced past Chance, dashed into the grass, emerging with his squirrel. He started across the road, escorted closely by Chance, but then turned reluctantly and returned to Chip.

If dogs could talk…it was clear to me that Ike was thinking perhaps Chip should hang around the feeders and get his own squirrel. Ike cast a nervous glance at me; I assured him that he could have all the squirrels in the county for himself. We Chicago folks like our meat wrapped in plastic on foam trays. We all started down the hill, everyone happy except for Ike. And the squirrel.

Chip fired up the tiller, Chance found a new sun spot, Ike stared at the feeders. This city kid was thankful for ribs for supper.

Knox Master Gardener

Sandra DePalma-Odell


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