Thursday, August 25, 2011

Waste not, want not

Radio entertainer and host of A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor, was a staple of my childhood Saturday evening entertainment on the farm. One story still resonates in my head. In one of his "Lake Wobegon" monologues, Keillor commented on how safe his town was, that people never locked their car doors and would often leave the keys when parking in town -- except in August. No, in August, doors were locked and car windows rolled up despite the summer heat, because to leave a car unlocked meant risking the inevitable -- someone would leave a bag of zuchini in the car.

One of the challenges of gardening, urban or not, is to grow just enough vegetables that the gardener can eat immediately, put up or give away and not have so much that produce goes to waste. This is a great challenge because there are so many variables at play; soil type and fertility, rainfall or ability to water, seed or plant health, plant variety, insect damage, temperatures, etc. It's likely that many gardeners put a lot into the ground hoping that sheer numbers will overcome any of these adversities.

And this is all well and good, until an urban gardener with a country perspective walks through a community garden and sees tomatoes fallen to the ground, yellowing cucumbers or oversized zucchini. I not only grew up on a farm, I grew up with a "waste not, want not" mentality due to a pretty tight food budget and a very large garden. My mother canned, pickled and froze much of what we grew and didn't eat immediately. I'll never forget one summer afternoon, after canning 80 quarts of tomatoes, my mother said with great satisfaction, "If we run out of food, at least we'll have tomatoes."

So I took a mid-August walk through the new American Family community garden to see how our own gardeners were harvesting (or not) their produce. This is what I found.
The garden is home to many insects - I grew up knowing this as a garden spider. It was feeding on another insect - go spider!

These cherry tomatoes are ready to harvest. What you don't see is this gardener planted several cherry tomato plants and there is a lot of over ripe fruit on the plants and on the ground.

This is from my garden, an asian eggplant that had some sort of rot. Had I harvested it earlier, it may not have rotted where it touched the mulch.

The infamous zucchini, this one ready to harvest. I was glad not to find boatloads of boatsized fruit - yet. Late August is upon us.

Lettuce gone bad. I wouldn't want to meet this in a dark alley.


Basil going to flower. It's beautiful, and the bees love it, but when basil is allowed to flower, the plant thinks it's done its job and wraps up for the summer. Unlike cilantro, a well-trimmed basil plant will keep producing - think an endless supply of pesto or caprese salad.

Can't blame the gardener for this, cilantro bolts no matter what you do. Suggestion: pull it out and plant more; you'll have fresh cilantro in a couple of weeks. Request: don't let it go to seed or your neighbors will have cilantro - everywhere.

This makes me sad; an ignored and unharvested variety of sugar or snow pea.

This makes me happy, a bee in a squash blossom.

Swollen cucumbers. None of these are food-grade produce anymore and need to be removed to the compost pile before they turn to mush and insect party dens.

I'm not sure if these are "decorative" peas/beans; the blossoms are lovely. But the vegetables are desiccating on the vine and could have been somebody's food.


The bean on the left is good to eat, the one on the right is getting a bit big but certainly edible. Within a few days, however, no one will want to eat this lovely food.


Thanks for reading and looking at photos. I'll post some ideas about what to do with excess produce in a future blog post.