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On the Mark: Putting the garden to bed

For 50 years, I have been vegetable gardening on the same plot.

My grandfather had brought Danish practices and preferences to his garden. Long widowed from my grandmother’s ovarian cancer, he was delighted to have my help. He patiently answered my questions. We cooked together. Years later, after he and my uncle died, my cousin Martha Markusen asked me if I would buy the house, small barn and 7 acres from them. Her father had unpaid medical expenses, and my contract for deed would enable them to pay off the bills.

I have been working the plot ever since. I use the smaller tiller I bought and sometimes the large one that was Barb Walli’s. Now we also have a petite tiller that spurts along the rows and turns over the soil before, during and after the growing season.

I pretty much plant what Grampa and I grew in the early 1970s — a northern European diet of potatoes, onions, squash, peas, green beans, zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, beets, kale, chard, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, cauliflower, celery and rutabagas. In a separate south-facing garden along Grampa’s old planing mill, we still plant herbs: rosemary, cilantro, mint and basil.

My bumper crop this year has been parsley. I’ve dried two quarts’ worth, some in smaller jars for gifts to friends. Apples are our other bumper crop, several varieties. I’ve made many quarts of applesauce, their color enhanced by including some dolgo crabapple juice from our huge misshapen tree.

I am writing this in a 100-year-old handsome chair my great-grandfather Hans made, reupholstered by my cousin Martha some years back. Sitting right out in the field, the breeze gentle but persistent enough to send gold popple leaves floating toward the hayfield. Taking a break from spreading compost that has been rotting away in our composter. Running the small tiller among the rows to work the compost into the soil.

I’m dreaming already of what we’ll plant next year. How the choices of seed and seedlings will be altered. Wondering what climate change will bring. This summer was very dry, and we had to water a lot. I had the great pleasure of working with Andrea Pocernich on the garden after her graduation and before she set off for college.

Our produce makes for wonderful meals. It has forced me to find and master new recipes for the various varieties. A 4-pound (!) rutabaga made a wonderful stew that lasted several days. The veggies are often ahead of me — I dive into favorite cookbooks for recipes. And it can be a chore keeping up with produce in our fridge. But also a delight when dishes emerge from the oven or stovetop.

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