The War on the Garden

It all started innocently enough. I was excited to have space for a garden. The thought of picking fresh produce from my backyard all summer long was appealing, We had a large rectangle in the back lawn, away from overhanging trees, that had been used as a garden before, and fertilized regularly with horse manure. Even better, it hadn't been planted for a few years, so there shouldn't be any insect pests. This was gonna be great!

I started my seeds for nightshades (2 types of peppers and 4 varieties of tomatoes) and cucurbits (2 kinds of cucumber, summer and winter squash, and cantaloupe) indoors in the spring. When they were ready to move, we tilled up the garden plot and spent a couple days planting. Everything looked great.

Weeds were a problem, but we pulled and hoed and kept the bed clean. Seeds sprouted, plants grew, and we got our first zucchini. Then our second zucchini. Then our third and fourth zucchini, and a couple cucumbers, too.

Then we realized we had sown a monster. It was war. Here's s picture of a typical day's haul from the garden in late July--before the tomatoes even got started:

The Battle of the Zucchini was the first major engagement. We were still weakened from the ongoing War of the Peaches on the eastern front, but we managed to hold of the zucchini anyway. It wasn't enough just to make zucchini bread and chocolate zucchini cake. I found recipes for zucchini frittatas and zucchini-crusted pizzas. I shredded zucchini and froze it in quart bags. I sold some, and gave some to family. I stuffed my dehydrator full--twice--and dried eighteen trays of 1/4-inch slices. I silently cheered as my big beautiful plants began to succumb to powdery mildew and had to be pulled. Now, at the end of the season, I'm still getting a few squashes, but I can keep up with the stream. Whew. I won that battle.

Cucumbers were a formidable enemy. There are few things as good as a fresh, tender cucumber, In my household, I can slice up a couple cukes and leave them on the counter, and they will disappear within a few hours. The quantities we were harvesting, though, were far greater than what we could eat fresh. I sought out pickle recipes, and ended up making six batches--of about seven quarts each--of pickles: bread & butter (with and without onions), dill spears (with and without hot peppers), and a big batch of sweet pickles. I also stuffed my dehydrator twice with cuke slices, and I now have a couple gallon bags of cucumber chips. I won the cucumber battle, but only because we had a dry summer and the vines dried up early.

The green beans defeated me. I was picking upwards of a gallon a day, but not eating nearly that many. I snapped, blanched, and froze my surplus, but when the freezer filled up, I stopped picking. They were just taking too much time, and I had enough.

I was worried when the corn was close to ripening. I love corn, and I appreciate its versatility, but I didn't have the time (or the big pots) that I would need to handle it. An unexpected ally emerged to help me conquer the corn: a family of raccoons seemed to start having nightly parties in the corn patch, and there wasn't any left for me. So the corn did not get the better of me, but I also didn't get to eat any corn.

Then came the epic Battle of the Tomatoes. The cherry tomatoes started--sweet, juicy fruits that were so handy for snacking. Then the Early Girls joined in, offering perfect smallish fruit suited for slicing on sandwiches or eating whole. I had planted Romas with the intent to can them, so that's what I did; I peeled them and put them up in quart jars. The Early Girls were becoming so plentiful that I had to start canning them, too. I put up juice. I put up sauce. I made salsa. I made catsup. I was picking cherry tomatoes by the gallons, and Romas by the bushel. The heirloom tomatoes joined in the battle right before I got my dehydrator. I started drying sliced tomatoes. I dried seven gallons of cherry tomatoes. I sold some big Heirloom tomatoes and gave many away. My mother filled her freezer with tomato juice. I almost caught up--but the cherry tomatoes kept going. I surrendered. I had fought hard, but the tomatoes won that battle.

There were, of course, other minor skirmishes with peppers, kohlrabi, and cantaloupe. They required some effort to squelch, but I was up for it. The Battle of the Butternuts is looming, but I'm not scared, since I will be able to pick them all at once and process them in one session--and they'll wait until after the apples are under control.

I look back at the war, and, even though I lost a few battles, I feel victorious. At the end of the growing season, my freezer is stuffed with zucchini, peaches, and green beans. I've got over 100 jars of tomatoes, salsa, marinara, pickles, jam, apple butter, and pear sauce on the counter. I also have many bags of dried cucumber, zucchini, apples, pears, tomatoes, and pepitas put up. My grocery bill was notably smaller through the summer, and I expect it to stay smaller through the winter, too.

But I will definitely think more carefully about next year's garden!

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