Sitting on the porch with the children, we watched the combine work the corn field across the road. They love the roar of the heavy machinery and Bear literally danced with anticipation as the combine approached the grain truck. He jumped and squealed and clapped as they pulled alongside one another and we got to watch the grain pour into the back of the truck.
“This is what it’s all about,” I thought to myself. The season was coming to a close. A season of work, of worry, of challenges. This year’s crop had to face a late freeze that took out the majority of the beet crop, flooding that put counties under water, grasshoppers that left farmers in four Nebraska counties eligible for federal aid and mold and fungus issues as fields slowly dried after the flooding.
Mr. B. had stopped by the week before to chat. Standing in the drive, he affirmed that his crop had escaped the worst Nebraska’s finicky weather had to offer this year and he was pleased with the dry spell that was reducing the moisture content of his corn and readying it for harvest.
“Another weekend of this and it should be around 18%,” he said with an appreciative glance over his field. I knew he was talking about the moisture content, deduced that 18% was worthy of something but unsure exactly what that meant. But since the harvesters were out less than a week later, it must have marked the end of the season.
Now the fields stand empty. Strands of electric fencing have been erected around some of the harvested fields where cattle have been turned out to glean. We cannot see them from our property, but I love listening to them lowing in the fields late at night. Our ducks and geese have discovered the fallen corn and spend their days waddling up and down the rows, cleaning up the spillage.
And I think of my own garden. My own disappointing garden. I’d had high hopes for it, but they seemed destined to be shattered from the start. We got started late, so most of my plans were never planted let alone realized. This left a frighteningly large portion of the garden open to weeds who were more then happy to fill in the vacuum. Then my goslings, who were supposed to be my assistants in the garden, escaped their pen and ate a quarter of my corn. Without decent fencing, I was forced to take them off the garden until the plants matured.
But I jumped the gun on that. Or didn’t realize just how big they were getting and how small my heritage corn was. Now, the corn could have easily withstood the occasional nip to the leaves. But the geese seemed to favor the developing tassles on the corn itself and before I even realized what was happening, they rendered my entire planting incapable of pollinating.
Hail took out my tomatoes and peppers. Weeds overwhelmed my cucumbers, squash and melons. Not to mention me. When we finally gave up on the garden for the season, it had yielded three pounds of green beans, three cucumbers and two pie pumpkins. All wonderfully delicious, but a depressing harvest from a 3,000 square foot garden that was supposed to keep us in garden fresh veggies throughout the growing season and perhaps even overwhelm us with its bounty.
As it was, we got way more out of the unexpected fruits the property offered without our labor and finances. Lilac jelly, black locust blossom fritters and syrup, clover jelly, dandelion syrup, and sharab el toot. We even discovered an elderberry bush, sampled some berries and determined it worthy of propogating next year. Of course, once I add my gardening skills to that poor bush, it will likely go the way of my garden, but one can dream.
Looking over the fence at my tattered rows of strawberries, my cold frame of arugula and the rows that never were, I wonder for a moment what next year will bring. But here’s the strange thing about gardening: No matter how bad this year was, there is always next year.
No matter how disappointing every year has been, there is always next year.
Experience is not much of a teacher when it comes to gardening.
Next year’s weeds have not yet sprouted. Next year’s storms not yet brewed. Next year’s heat not yet driven me inside to lemonade and a fan. Instead, I have a calendar full of optimism where seeds are planted in succession and my harvest comes in just a little faster than I can bring it all in.
Whether I’m an incurable optimist or merely suffer that bizarre form of amnesia common to many gardeners I cannot tell. But next year will be better.
It certainly couldn’t be much worse.