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The Humble Gardener

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Gardening  Cheaper Than Therapy and You Get Tomatoes  1

Gardening: Cheaper Than Therapy and You Get Tomatoes

Chip and I sit on the shaded deck, holding fat homemade steak sandwiches on Turano Italian rolls stuffed with homegrown peppers, onions, tomatoes and herbs. We both are filthy. We have spent three hours picking black raspberries. This is the fourth picking, the last of the lot for this year. Heat indexes in the 90's has made this picking unpleasant, but berries don't wait for cool weather to ripen.

There is an art to picking raspberries that we have developed over the years. Because Chip is taller and has longer arms, he picks the top of the bushes and any bunches of berries easily seen. I follow behind and cull the lower branches. This is where the plumpest, juiciest berries often are. From time to time, I pop one in my mouth (strictly for quality control purposes). The juice bursts in my mouth and entices me on to other plants.

Somehow, despite our tag team approach, we still manage to miss some berries. The plants are visited by Japanese beetles and other flying insects. The beetles are on the berries like frat boys at a beer keg. I take great delight in flicking the beetles off the plant. They depart in a cluster when flicked, plus they are discombobulated. That is my goal. I generally am kinder to insects, following the tenet that we all have to make a living, but I can't find it in my heart to be friendly towards the beetles. Their reckless destruction of the hibiscus, green beans, and milkweed blooms, among myriad other plants, makes me crazy. The beetles get revenge by dive bombing me as they escape. Have I mentioned these guys drive me nuts?

As we eat, we have a clear view of the cucumbers vines, seven feet tall and covered with flowers. I mention to Chip that I checked the vines yesterday and there were no cukes. He immediately points out four cukes. From our seated vantage point, we spot cukes that we haven't seen when we walk by. I am convinced that I turn around and a tiny cuke bursts into a huge specimen. The gardener in me knows that this is impossible but it seems to occur on such a regular basis that I continue to consider this as a definite likelihood. Nature does a fine job of hiding green cukes amongst green leaves. I remind myself to sit more often and look more carefully as I begin to plan a tomato, cucumber, and shallot salad with raspberry and olive oil vinaigrette for supper.

The yellow of the summer squash is much easier to see, although these, too, seem to balloon overnight into full grown squash. Now the kale is yielding daily pickings and the four eggplant plants offer their purple glossy beauty in stark contrast to its green leaves. I can't wait for dinner time.

"The garden is cheaper than therapy, and we get tomatoes" is a meme a friend sent me. Now that the planting work is done and we are merely maintaining by weeding and watering, picking the produce is the fun part of vegetable gardening. We see a print in the corn patch soil and note that someone has been helping himself to corn. I think it was a cat but Chip shows me why it's a raccoon's paw print. Plus most cats aren't big corn eaters. We pick eight ears that vary in readiness and hope the coons find something else to eat. Optimism reigns as we leave the garden.

Back in air conditioning, we take the black raspberries off the stove where they have been simmering. They get dumped into a cotton jelly bag and hung over a pot so the juice from the berries will fall into it. Tomorrow we will cook the last batch of berries and begin the jelly making. There is a therapeutic restfulness in the process of picking, juicing, and the actual making of black raspberry jelly. The eating of jelly on Chip's homemade bread is a treat that makes the hours picking in stifling heat totally worth it.

Sometimes we ask each other if we should start making our vegetable gardens smaller. The work is intensive in spring and early summer. But when we look at the time outside getting exercise doing worthwhile garden tasks, the variety of vegetables that we grow, and the play time afforded the kittens (yes, they are still living with us wreaking havoc), we feel extremely lucky to have the space to grow a garden and the energy to care for it. Plus we don't have to see a therapist AND we get tomatoes. And where else would the coons get fresh sweet corn? Guess we'll keep on keeping on and hope for fewer visits from beetles, coons, and kittens.
Today's post was written by Sandra DePalma-Odell. Sandra is a Certified Master Gardener serving Henderson, Knox, McDonough & Warren Counties. A former English Teacher of 27 years, she writes about everyday life as a gardener learning as she grows. In addition to gardening, she loves to read, cook, and hang out with her two grandkids.

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