Illustration by Linda Cook Devona
I’m told ornamental gardeners spend August deadheading flowers—a term I first thought meant getting the Grateful Dead fans out of their garden beds, but later discovered refers to snipping dying flowers, getting rid of old blooms to encourage new ones.
Vegetable growers, though, have got something even more imposing to dispose of: their harvest. August is the Noah’s flood of vegetable gardening. I don’t know why God declared all food should ripen on the eighth month, but I do know why he came up with the other 11: It’s going to take all of them for your family (dog included) to eat it all.
In August, you can’t feed anymore of your garden’s harvest to your kids—the poor things have moved out They now live in the dumpster behind McDonald’s, where they dine on residue of milkshake and packets of unopened salad croutons. You can’t eat anymore yourself—not since Japanese beetles started flinging themselves against the window screens every time you enter a room. And you can’t sneak anymore into your spouse, who is conducting an experiment to see if a human being can survive entirely on beer. Store-bought beer.
You’re stuck. It’s time to shut up and put up. You’ve got to can. And the only reason to can food, any food, is because you can’t come up with something else to do with it.
Canning is the penance for spring, when you couldn’t stop yourself from putting out one more row of tomato starts. Canning is the human’s attempt to make the hottest days of the year even more sizzling indoors than they are out. Canning is the time-honored technique for turning firm, ripe produce into detexturized pulp so overcooked even Gerber’s would reject it. Canning is the wee hours of the night when, down on your knees, you beg that big, blue-black kettle to please start boiling. You offer it a display case on the mantelpiece, where your friends can admire it all winter. (“Doris, what a delightfully cute canning kettle. Mind if I pet it?”) You promise it your first-born son, should he ever return from McDonald’s. You swear you’ll give it the next decade off—a vow you intend to keep! And you cower when you realize that this is only the first run of the night.
At 4:30 a. m., when the last jar has crawled out of the pot and you finally crawl into bed, you make one more promise. No more vegetables. Never again. Next year you become an ornamental — and only ornamental — gardener. Then you, too, can spend August, sunhat shading your eyes, clippers poised gracefully in your delicate, gloved fingers, deadheading flowers.
Pat Stone is the Editor of GreenPrints, “The Weeder’s Digest,” the magazine that shares the personal side of gardening. Visit her website.