Fruits of the Harvest

Mowing between rows isn’t a generally prescribed form of weed control in a garden. But drastic times call for creative measures. It had been a few years since I managed a decent crop of popcorn and supplies were running low. It wasn’t for a lack of effort on my part. The arrival of a weed called “foxtail” was the culprit. With a name like that, you might expect a cute or even adorable grass but you would be mistaken. I mean no disrespect to George Washington Carver, who said “A weed is a flower growing in the wrong place,” but this plant is a menace. Fast-growing and thicker than Absalom’s hair, it chokes out anything competing for its space.

A pre-emergent herbicide is cited as a solution to combat the problem, but that has never solved my dilemma. Any post-emergent herbicide would simply put an end to the growing season of the things I wanted to survive. Thus, I’ve been left to seek creative (and mostly futile) solutions. This year the stars aligned so that my popcorn started quickly. It reached a good height before the buried foxtail seeds awoke from their winter sleep and germinated, giving me a moment’s hope. Within a couple of weeks, the invasive weed was gaining quickly on the corn. It likely would have been a losing battle once again were it not for an old push mower kept in our basement. Despite its age, it generally starts on the first pull of the starter rope. I called it back to active duty and transported it out to my garden.

I admit that I felt a bit foolish walking behind this mower through a dozen or so 50’ rows of corn. Who mows their garden, anyway? But I did it. Funny the things you’ll do when you want something badly enough! Foxtail is so persistent and fast-growing that it was necessary to mow between these rows on three occasions before summer’s end.

Foolish or not, victory was achieved. The mowing didn’t rival a finely manicured lawn by any means, but it was sufficient to the need. Without the choking effects of the foxtail, the popcorn thrived. The harvest was abundant. In these B.H.R. days (before hip replacement) hand-picking the corn would have been more than I could have managed had it not been for Judi and my oldest sister, Kelly. Between the three of us, we made short work of the task.

Thanks to a hand-cranked corn sheller found in my father-in-law’s barn a few years back, stripping the kernels from the cob is easier than it might be otherwise. After a few hours of shelling over the course of three or four days, when all was said and done, we packaged ninety-eight quarts of popcorn. I’d say there are several movie nights in our future. I don’t expect to plant popcorn next spring – or maybe even the spring after that. It is a nice reward for some dogged determination and effort.

As we’ve shared our abundance with family and friends, we occasionally receive photos of popped corn with movie recommendations, or texts expressing appreciation for the gift. Those are good reminders of the joy that comes with the fruits of the harvest, helping the sweat and the trials fade into the background.

Fruits of the harvest have been on my mind lately. Earlier this week I sat down to a lunch of savory homemade vegetable soup made from our garden produce. We generally can soup every summer. The product of no two years is the same. One year the beans are plentiful but the potatoes aren’t, or there is lots of cabbage but very little squash or corn. This week’s pot included broccoli and cauliflower, which was surprising. I am no George H.W. Bush, but broccoli is not high on my list of favorite vegetables, and I have very little use for cauliflower. In a weak moment, I planted both one year and they did very well. As I enjoyed them in this recent lunch, I commented to Judi, “Wow. I’m surprised we still have this. It was a few years back when I planted cauliflower.” She agreed, noting the lid on the jar was labeled 2016. Eight plus years – and it was as though we just made it yesterday. Opinions vary about how long canned items remain good. Count me in the camp that contends if the seal isn’t broken it’s good for the eating! We rarely have things on the shelf that long, but it is a good reminder that the fruits of the harvest can sustain a person for a long time.

Though it takes a bit of strain and effort to get there, harvest season is one of my favorite times. It brings a sense of satisfaction and reward – at least when it is successful, which isn’t always the case, either in the garden or in life.  I must admit that I enjoy it when life unfolds effortlessly even more than favorable outcomes in the garden. You probably know what it is like to have a day when everything works right the first time – the glue repair holds or the chain saw starts easily or the recipe works as advertised. I love those days when life is good and the livin’ is easy.

But not every day is like that. In fact, it seems less than optimal days come in bunches – almost like a season of difficulty. I think perhaps I’m in the midst of one of those right now. A one-day floor job to resurface our garage is on schedule to take about three weeks. Any minute now an electrician will arrive for a third visit to solve the mystery of one light bulb that operates on its own schedule. As the saying goes, “My mama said there would be days like this.” We’ll get through it eventually!

I much prefer the more agreeable seasons. Whether my plans come together just as I intended or a new unimagined way opens that is acceptable hardly matters.  Some may criticize it as a path of least resistance, but that doesn’t dampen my appreciation. But I must also acknowledge the value of obstacles — contending with the weeds, you might say. Helen Keller said “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” Some days I think character is overrated – especially in times of hardship. Then I listen to the events dominating news headlines and I know better. Character matters, and we need whatever life lessons help shape that in a positive manner, even if they make us sweat.

At a recent conference I attended, the speaker said if we want to do new things, we need to write it down, commit to it, and do it. He said it as though it were a magic strategy. I thought, “That’s not a strategy so much as it is just a wordy revamping of Nike’s slogan, “Just do it.” Still, he wasn’t wrong. Effort is required to learn. Patience in the face of adversity is a virtue. Resilience in the face of discouragement can be the catalyst that gets us over the hump. In all likelihood a few weeds are in all of our futures. They can derail your dreams and choke the life out of your ambition if ignored for very long. Don’t allow that to happen.

Every year when I’m on my knees, digging and grunting while planting potatoes, about half way through I wonder aloud, “Why do I do this? Potatoes are not that expensive in the supermarket!” By summer’s end, I remember why as I savor a freshly dug Kennebeck or Yukon Gold, cooked as part of a stew, or baked, or fried with a little bit of oil and onion.

Life is demanding. Sometimes it takes the fruits of the harvest to keep it all in perspective.

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