We miss a lot of fun in these days of computers, soap operas and food
freezers. This is the time of year when we compete with Mother Nature and with
our neighbors to see who can be first. For example, we had our first asparagus
last week, our cabbage and broccoli plants -- frozen and flooded as they are
-- put on their first real growth, and we were first in how much the rain
gauge registered after the big rain.
My neighbor was first in how big the hailstones were, and we were lucky
because we didn’t get a one! The last big hail was years ago, and I decided to
gather up some of the largest. That wasn’t easy because I got battered with
the ones that fell while I was still sorting out smaller ones for larger
treasures. I put about a dozen in the freezer and had proof, all summer, that
our hailstones were really big -- not like golf balls at all because each one
was several stones frozen into single, irregular clumps.
William McHarg used to take a first pink radish to church and show it off
while the congregation was singing. I couldn’t do that when my claim to fame
were enormous heads of broccoli and cauliflower. April and May produce a lot
of firsts; however, what we miss most is the old-time delicious tastes.
How many people under 30 have gone to their very own strawberry patch and
picked and eaten one right off the vine? Many have, of course, but it wasn’t
the thrill it used to be because we’ve had strawberries all year long! Shipped
in ones, frozen ones and chunks of strawberry in our ice cream cones can’t
match the taste of that very first shiny one eaten warm and unwashed in your
own strawberry patch.
It’s the same with spinach, radishes, grapes and zucchini. Before long, we’ll
be hard put to find someone who’d like another zucchini, and I’ll enjoy the
first of that because I’m too frugal to pay the price for a little banana-size
zucchini in the stores, off season. I was pretty dumb not to plant a lot of
quick-growing lettuce in a big flower pot this year. Last year I did that and
picked lettuce leaves as fast as they matured. I chose head lettuce, this
time, and it has survived the cold and wet, but it’s just begun to grow.
As the summer progresses, we’ll look forward to the first sweet corn. This is
one that air freight and freezers can’t match. Our neighbor treats us to sweet
corn that’s planted four long rows at a time, once a week for as long as it
has a chance to mature. Raccoons know when it’s at its best and their heavy
weight breaks stalks down to where they can eat the corn on the ground. We
watch for coon damage and pick our first ears as soon as we see the trash
In late summer, there’s that first cantaloupe, honey dew and watermelon. We
buy plants for these and set them out when the ground is warm. At the price of
honey dew, I have raised about $100 worth each of several summers. Learning to
buy plants made the difference because they require a long growing period. Two
years ago, one of my plants produced a “nest full” -- seven large dews that
looked like so many dinosaur eggs!
So important is the competition for first tomato that I’m willing to buy three
or four of those started plants -- already blooming -- potted and ready to be
transplanted. The problem with this is, my competitors do the same -- I
learned it from them!