War & Peas in the Garden

Care for my garden while I’m gone. Water infrequently but deeply so the roots won’t get spoiled by good treatment and grow shallow. The sad droop of the plants and crumple of the soil will tell you when they’re thirsty. Make them suffer a little, then give them a good dousing. Keep an especially close eye on the plants in pots. The smaller the pot, the faster it dries out. Don’t forget the asparagus fern in the living room. It never rains in the house. Not since we replaced the shingles anyway. Pick the podded peas when the pods are still supple but the peas large and firm. Go ahead; give them a squeeze. They like it. The herbs — parsley, sage, marjoram, oregano, tarragon, etc. — like to be clipped. The more you cut their heads off, the faster and fuller they grow. Harvest lettuce and kale from the top down and outside in. Show no mercy. If greens aren’t subdued, they become bitter. If that bully lemon balm encroaches on the rosemary or chives, or — God forbid — the basil, yank it out by the roots. Lemon balm wants to be the only plant in the garden. It must be contained. Mint, too, has megalomaniacal tendencies. If you notice, for example, that the lamb’s ear is shadowing the small pepper plant, you might want to move the Master Pepper to a happier place. Most young ones don’t mind a gentle relocation once you explain it. Cull the spindly and sickly; put them out of their misery. Pick out the weeds as they poke up their cheeky heads. Curb overpopulation, especially among carrots and cucumbers. Pick off the Japanese beetles should they arrive. Destroy, or relocate, any other bug that seems to be doing more harm than good. Leaves chewed to the nub are a sign that a bug is too piggy for the garden. Leave the toads alone. Same for snakes, who eat bugs, though they also enjoy the occasional strawberry. Don’t begrudge that lovely garter snake the occasional strawberry. Eat the strawberries as they ripen, warm from the vine. When picking raspberries don’t be afraid to plunge in. A scratch or two is a small price to pay for lusciousness. And look under the sprays of leaves. The raspberries on top are just the tip of the iceberg. Forget the blueberries, unless you like them hard and tart. The birds will beat you to the sweet ones every time. Pick the string beans when they’re Hollywood thin. Once they grow thick at the waist, they get tough, stringy, bland and ill-tempered. You may wonder about the wire basket covering the catnip. It’s there for the nip’s protection; otherwise the cats would kill it they love it so. Stake and string up the tomatoes so they don’t topple from their own bounty. If you’re eager, go ahead and fry a couple of green Big Boys sliced thin and coated in flour, egg, and corn meal. Once you think you’ve got enough fruit started, abort the new blossoms, so the rest can thrive. Let them reach their red and juicy peak of ripeness, but be sure to catch them before they rot. With tomatoes, timing is everything. Deadhead the petunias and marigolds. Once they go to seed, the show’s over. Don’t mistake the poppy seedlings for lettuce like Grampa did. That impromptu snack didn’t seem to do him any harm, but it probably didn’t do him any good. And for God’s sake, keep ahead of the zucchini. Eat the little zucchs when they’re tender, amenable. But if you miss some wily ones (they hide) and they grow massive, machete them from the stalk as they sleep, bag them, haul them to work or the mall or, best of all, to the movie-plex late at night. Deposit them in some innocent’s unlocked vehicle. Then run. Don’t look back. Run. And keep on running. NH New Hampshire humorist Rebecca Rule wrote these guidelines for her husband before going on a trip to Maine. She returned to find her peas and beans eaten by slugs. (“I forgot to tell him about slugs.”) He had also bought a new Porsche. (”I think a slug attacked his brain.”)
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