Sunday, August 15, 2010

many hands make light work—and heavy trailers

The harvest on August 14 was huge—in fact, one of our largest in three years. We were fortunate in that a large number of volunteers, including a group from Chicago Cares, arrived early to help.

The bulk of the volunteers started on tomatoes. Harvesting tomatoes is time-consuming work, especially when the tomato plants are in full, unruly growth. As new volunteers arrived, we sent them straight to the tomato beds. Our efforts were rewarded with 75 pounds of tomatoes—the most in three years, just surpassing the prior record of 72.5 pounds harvested on August 22, 2008.

A smaller group worked on potatoes. We had noticed earlier that some of our potato plants were turning yellow and dying back—a sign that the potatoes underneath were ready to harvest. We decided to harvest one half of a bed in which we had planted Cranberry and La Ratte varieties. Using long shovels, we dug carefully into the mounded rows, taking pains not to slice through the potatoes that were buried underneath. We sifted dirt through various grates and retrieved mostly rose-colored Cranberry potatoes. The yield from just the half-bed was over 22 pounds—already the highest yield of potatoes in three years, and we still have plants to harvest in another bed, a bathtub, and various containers.

We then moved to the cucumber beds, from which we obtained 45 pounds of vegetables. We clipped leaves from our still prodigious collard, kale, and chard plants, and harvested the second of our three cabbage plants.

After weeks of waiting, we were finally able to take a number of more or less fully ripened sweet peppers. We pulled up another bunch of large carrots, as well as a number of beets. We also pulled the first of a new crop of small, white radishes.

After washing and weighing the produce, we surveyed our collection of white plastic bins, wondering whether we would be able to transfer everything into a single bike trailer. We rearranged and sorted. We made difficult choices to conserve space, removing the greens from the beets and the tops from the carrots. We were congratulating ourselves on squeezing everything into eight stacked containers (a new record) when we remembered the two bins of potatoes. At this point, Julie offered to carry half of the potatoes. So with the trailer at near capacity and the potatoes in Julie’s pannier and my backpack, we set off for the pantry.

While Julie and I made the delivery, the other volunteers turned to garden maintenance. Some treated squash and cucumber leaves for powdery mildew. Others cleaned up in front, righting downed fencing and picking up trash along the street. Still others cleared the dodecahedron bed and prepared it for amending. (I will describe the amending of the dodecahedron bed in a future post.)

This trip to the pantry was my first in which two carts were required to hold all of our delivery. Lori Cannon told us that the Armenian cucumber has become a favorite of pantry visitors. A regular visitor to the pantry told Julie that he had eaten tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for four days in a row.

The total harvest for August 14, 2010 was 182 pounds, second in size only to the 212 pounds harvested on September 12 last year. It would have been impossible to gather this amount of produce in the few hours that were available to us without a large number of volunteers.

The garden is at its peak, and we haven’t even started taking plums and pears yet. Come out and help with the harvest. Let’s break the bike trailer.