Garden, vacation--they never seem to be in synch


August 17, 1991|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

The tomatoes are red,

The potatoes are brown,

All the crops are ripe,

And we're leaving town.

It happens every summer. The vegetable garden hits its peak just as we hit the beach. Most of the tomatoes turns bright red the same week my body does. I always miss the harvest.

This year is no exception. We leave for vacation tomorrow morning. By midafternoon, I suspect, word will have spread through the garden -- via the grapevine -- that the humans are gone. Then one of the plants will tell a corny joke, causing the vegetables and fruits to laugh so hard they fall off their stems and drop to the ground, which is where I'll find them when I return.

Bumper crops never grace my garden until my bumper leaves town.

This bothers me. I dislike the idea of abandoning my back yard at its greatest time of need, and mine of greed. How can all of this food be coming just as I am going? I am mad at the tomatoes, which balked at ripening during one of the hottest Julies on record, but are blushing nicely now in much cooler temperatures. Meanwhile, the cucumbers, supposedly two weeks shy of harvest, are producing already.

The tomatoes are late. The cukes are early. Zucchini forever. Go figure.

It gets worse. The peach tree, a sweet young thing, is groaning under the weight of its first full harvest. Last year we picked and savored a dozen yummy peaches. This year the tree produced hundreds of fruits, and they are ripe now.

Some of the peaches will be packed for the seashore, to be eaten as snacks on the sand. Others will be thrust upon neighbors, along with a zucchini or two. People are more inclined to accept summer squash when you sweeten the pot.

Alas, I am unable to preserve the remainder of the peach crop. There is no room in the car for canning equipment, according to my wife, whose tone of voice precluded my pursuing the matter.

In the front yard stands a recalcitrant plum tree, which has decided to bear fruit for the first time in five years. The tree seems to have reserved its strength for one memorable harvest. Thousands of prune plums droop from its branches in clusters, like Christmas ornaments hung there by a 3-year-old. I am in awe of this purple mountain's majesty.

I picked and ate the first ripe plum yesterday; the rest are close behind.

"How did it taste?" my wife asked.

"Great," I said. "Is it too late to get our vacation deposit back?"

The apples should be the least of my worries in August; their due date is six weeks hence. So what happens? Two days before our vacation, a limb falls off my favorite tree, a Golden Delicious. Not any limb, mind you, the biggest limb. It crashed to the ground, carrying 374 green apples to their doom. I counted as I gathered them in bushel baskets and stored them in the basement, where the apples will stay until they become applesauce. Several unlucky apples on which the branch landed were mush already.

Disgusted, I stalked into the house.

"I can't believe this happened now," I said.

"It's your own fault," my wife said. "There were too many apples on that branch. You didn't thin them properly last spring. You were being piggy. Piggy-piggy-piggy!"

She was right, of course. I have learned a valuable lesson. Next year will be different.

Next year, I will thin the tree to have fewer apples.

Next year, I will plant the tomatoes later and the cucumbers earlier.

Next year, I will plan our getaway around the peach and plum harvests.

And next year, when we are preparing to leave for vacation, I will hide the canning equipment where the spare tire should be. Just in case.

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