Harvests: Past and Present

Dena Anderson &nbsp&nbsp Gardeners can create their own shelter-in-place memories using vegetable grown in their own back yards.

Harvests: Past and Present

Harvest. In our supermarket-surrounded and 24-hour mini-mart available lives, many of us have lost the concept of what this word once meant. My grandfather, however, was thrilled when as a teenager a century ago he and his brother worked with a crew on a gas-powered hay baler. I have a photo of them, nearly indistinguishable among the bodies posing next to the apparatus-on-wheels nearly the size of a modern-day bus.

The machine and its “support staff” could do in one day what had previously needed several days of labor supported by horse-drawn machines. And at the end of the work day those horses needed care as well as feed which also came from the farm’s fields. My grandfather’s delight at simply shutting the machine down and going to eat his dinner were boundless.

His wife had her own “harvest memories.” One took the form of several pecks of peaches (approximately sixty pounds) that when canned would help feed their growing family. The just-harvested fruit was waiting in the kitchen the day she went into labor with my father. She counted herself lucky to have a mother-in-law who stepped in, processing the peaches as well as caring for young children and preparing the family’s meals for the next few days.

These memories have motivated me in this more-than-memorable year of 2020. Alameda’s mild weather allows for year-round gardening. Those of us who regularly garden, joined by many who took it up during “shelter-in-place” this past spring, will have memories of our own. In addition to my usual beans, greens, tomatoes, and basil, this year I added potatoes and asparagus.

For me, this year’s real memory-makers are the four tomato plants, together bearing a generous 100-plus pounds of fruit. Our weather, until the heatwave of a few weeks ago, was if anything on the cooler side. I wish I could claim some new method or insight for this mammoth production. The truth is I purchased usual varieties at a local nursery, planted them in the same yard as years past, threw the same home-composted fertilizer on them from time to time, and trusted the automatic sprinkler to do its part.

Besides gifting to friends and neighbors, I’ve kept busy freezing several tubs of homemade sauce and drying parchment-lined pans of thin-sliced fruit overnight in a low temperature oven. The latter are sublime added to guacamole or chopped into a bruschetta topping, among other possibilities. Any tomatoes judged substandard for human consumption were tossed to my chickens, but that’s another story.

Someday, 2020 will be a memory. The days, weeks, and months blurred by social isolation will ultimately carry forward only a few distinct memories of their own. For some of us, these memories will include pleasures found while harvesting the produce of our gardens.

For further reading on bountiful harvests, I suggest: The Long Winter or Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little Heathens by Mildred Kalish, and The Color of Food by Natasha Bowens.

Dena Andersen is a member of Alameda Backyard Growers

Alameda Backyard Growers (ABG) is dedicated to teaching our neighbors how to grow food. During this difficult time, our education program has moved online. Visit www.alamedabackyardgrowers.org and join the mailing list to receive timely gardening information. Visit ABG’s Free Seed Library at 2829 San Jose Ave.