Ruth Bass: The harvest - a celebration of the payoff

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RICHMOND — Right now, onions are my favorite. They pull up easily, they're a success, no critters or ants or creepy-crawlies want to eat them, and they've survived my unwillingness to weed them in August. In addition, the red ones — or you certainly can call them purple — keep for months in the cellar here, used up by May in tuna salad, tossed salad or with smoked salmon. The only downside at the moment is that they have to dry a little and shed their garden dirt before storage.

Second, right now, are the potatoes. They're nowhere near No. 1 earlier in the year when the seed potatoes have to be cut in two or three pieces, when holes must be dug to shelter them and when they have to be hilled, the soil drawn high on the sides of the plants. But now, it's the treasure hunt. Even our non-gardening offspring liked searching for every last potato in a hill, sometimes as many as six, most of them trying to hide.

Once again this year, the potatoes here had none of the horrid potato bugs, little orange squishy things that are apparently very bad for the plants. With infinite patience and a reluctance to spray, my husband always picked them off by hand. He either prevented them from reproducing, or the word went out that this was a hazardous area if you were a potato bug. It's been years since we had even one, and I hope this statement doesn't put a hex on the luck.

It's a year when post Labor Day finds the butternut and acorn squash still growing, the cucumbers staying alive longer than usual, the tomatoes ripening even though their plants look ready for the compost, and the green beans re-blooming because friends picked them clean while I was on vacation. It's also a year when summer squash and zucchini were not happy in this garden. The yield was small — actually not an unpleasant change from having so many that you might leave them on a neighbor's doorstep, ring the bell and run.

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Once again, the carrots are no fun at all. Every year I turn the page in the garden catalogue and try to ignore the carrots. They must be sown thickly because they might not germinate, then they must be weeded constantly, then they have to be thinned or they'll just be spindly and useless. So, I turned the page and then I thought about carrot soup and raw carrots and the constant attempt to make carrots the way Paul Bock once made them at the Coachlite, and I ordered carrots. Last week I dug the rest of them, using a shovel because they get really stuck in our clay-ey soil. And some small crawling thing had drilled several of them. Sigh. Next year? No carrots.

It's good, after carrots, to turn around and see the sunflowers, every somewhat spindly plant holding up a flower, all of them facing away from the house into the morning sun. They're a pleasure and also a bit precious when you see them priced by the stem in the market. The other you-can't-eat-it-but-it's-fun thing will be another treasure hunt, finding the odd-shaped, ornamental gourds among their thick leaves. The grandchild who likes to dig and plant and harvest goes at this task as if in a contest with a cash prize.

Spring in the vegetable garden is highly satisfactory with seeds slowly waking up in weed-less rows. But fall, when weeds can be ignored, has its own appeal. The garden is past the hard work of its adolescence and giving up the goods. April is hope, September is satisfaction.

Ruth Bass pulls weeds in Richmond. Her website is www.ruthbass.com.

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