Monitor Board of Contributors: Too much of a good thing
I’m standing in my kitchen cutting up peaches. There is nothing quite like a fresh, tree-ripened peach, just slightly soft to the touch, blushing with delicate fragrance, flavor bursting into your mouth with that first juicy bite. It is exquisite. None of those store-bought, bullet-hard perfectly molded plastic peaches can compare. Peaches off the tree in August are an ephemeral delight.
And ripening all at once. The branches are loaded. I’ve been giving away bags and baskets to everyone I see, desperate not to have them go to waste. I’ve been freezing them as fast as I can process them. Because we don’t spray them, they aren’t cosmetically perfect, like the tasteless chemo-peaches in the grocery store. There are spots where the bugs have gotten to them, bruises where they pressed up against a branch, imperfections common to real growing things. I cut these away along with the skin, which peels off easily for the most part. Then I slice them into bite-size sections onto a cookie sheet. Once they’ve been frozen solid, they go into freezer bags to be used in smoothies, mixed with yogurt, topped onto ice cream or baked into upside-down cake. A moment of summer preserved.
I don’t can, although I know a few folks who still do. The freezer is easier. So all that rich surplus from the garden gets stuffed into plastic instead of glass jars. I have mixed feelings about that. Glass is so much more wholesome. There is no lurking suspicion that it might be leaching horrific chemicals into my food. I go in fear that someday we’ll realize what a drastic mistake all this plastic has been, slow-poisoning us and burying us in mountains of non-biodegradable trash.
But I can’t bear to waste precious food. It’s the backside of the coin for all of us who grow our own. We get to enjoy the fresh, rich taste of real fruits and vegetables, packed with vitamins. And it all comes at once, faster than we can eat it.
Tomatoes everywhere. It’s great to go out to the garden with a salt shaker and feast off the vine. Then you come back to the house with a basket full of them. The kitchen becomes rich with the smell of basil and oregano as you put up tomato sauce by the quart.
And don’t talk to me about zucchini. It is infamous. Everybody has stories about their zucchini raids – not to steal them, but to leave them on people’s doorsteps, like unwanted kittens in a basket begging to be adopted. Zucchini big enough to be weapons are shredded down to make endless loaves of zucchini bread. Turn your back for a moment on those vines and the tender little fingers turn into baseball bats.
Back to me and my peaches. Our two trees stand inside the chicken run. This accomplishes three things: The trees are well-fertilized, any bug or worm that falls to chicken level is immediately vacuumed up, and the overripe fruit that drops to the ground doesn’t go to waste. It gets converted into fertilizer. Repeat cycle. I love the symmetry of it. Weeds from the garden, excess produce, all our organic waste goes into the compost which the chickens pick over. They scratch it up and add their own contribution. Eventually it goes back to the garden to generate more abundance, some of which ends up in the compost again. Around and around. Beautiful.
Also beautiful is the sound of Japanese beetles being crunched up by busy beaks. I knock the pests off my grapes, kiwi and quince into a pan of water, then set the pan down in the chicken run. The birds come rushing over to play bobbing for beetles. It’s a tasty, protein-rich snack for them. So are the tomato horn worms I pitch over the fence to them. It’s a mad dash to get to the worm first, with the winner racing around trying to wolf the worm down, competitors attempting to snatch the prize dangling from her beak.
Pretty soon it will be apples coming in, with bushel baskets everywhere, pans of apple crisp, pies, sauce and cider. And that kiwi I mentioned knocking the Japanese beetles off of? That comes last, just as frost hits, after the grapes and pears are done. The kiwi did really well this year. It’s a hardy variety that produces something the size of a large grape, part-way between the kiwifruit you buy in the store and a gooseberry. The vine is remarkably invasive, taking over our woodbin in spite of repeated hacking back. It’s covered with fruit. Covered.
Anybody for kiwi preserves?
(Justine “Mel” Graykin
lives and writes in Deerfield, and practices free-lance philosophy on her website at