Search This Blog

Friday, May 28, 2010

1/3, 1/3, 1/3…

The Valley in May

It is TJ short pants out in the Valley today. First day of the Year of Our Lord 2010 that my bare legs and knobby knees have dared brave the elements outside their ratty sweat pants. Gladys, too, seems to appreciate the lighter load.

Werkhovens’ field corn has sprouted. Feathery shoots line the furrows by the thousands, each new plant sprouts at a precise distance from its neighbor shoot. It’s as if the fields were planted using a ruler, one seed at a time. The field, in this modern age, is a New cornstudy in agricultural perfection: corn rows of real corn. Baby silage.

The title for this post was inspired by Richard Brautigan’s short story of the same title. Brautigan’s tale has to do with a division of labor for which each participant receives a one-third payment: a forty-two year old retired logger will write a novel; his girlfriend will edit the literary efforts of its author who has only a fourth grade education; and Brautigan, the only partner of the trio who has a typewriter, will receive the final third of the royalties for typing the manuscript. 1/3, 1/3,1/3

My experience in thirds, however, has nothing to do with Twentieth Century experimental novels, nor does it concern a division of labor. Mine is a story of strawberries and diminished returns.

As I pedal past Ed’s strawberry field where this year’s crop hang like green pebbles from the flower stems, I think of my own strawberry experiences. Strawberries Twice have I decided to diversify my crops in the home garden by adding strawberries to the mix. Several years ago I bought strawberry plants from Tony Broer, the Valley’s master berry man. I had prepared some ground for a large patch, enough for nine rows of berries. A labor of love it was to separate each new plant from the wrapped bundle of its dormant fellows, trowel out a scoop of soil, and snug the dirt  around the roots up to the crown. I remember Tony’s concern for the new berry farmer to the east, how he walked across the fields to where I labored away on my knees setting the plants. He showed me an easier, faster way to do the job: use a stob to punch a hole, lay the roots in the depression, kick in dirt, stomp it down and move on. In no time I had nine rows planted  .

As far as strawberry cultivation goes, planting is the least of one’s labors. Then the real work begins: trying to get a crop of the blessed things. I found myself down on my knees doing obeisance to the plants, freeing them from the strangle of weeds. It was an aggravating form of genuflection and had to be performed two or three times during the growing season. And when the plants were dormant, in our mild clime the weeds weren’t; they kept growing, a tip of the iceberg thing: a few leaves on top, root systems stretching for China beneath. When I should have been snuggling up to the woodstove, I was out in the cold on weed patrol,  yanking weeds with my right hand, swiping my nose with the left.

Then came spring and my first crop was on the vine. The weeding continued while I waited for the first ripe berry, the sweet fruit of my labors, to ripen in the patch. I have my doubts whether I was the first to taste the sweetness of that berry. I strongly suspect a robin’s beak enjoyed the first bite. His subsequent chirrup of delight signaled every fellow from Clan Cock Robin within earshot.

My battle with the weeds was immediately enjoined on a different front with a different enemy. ( Just one row of strawberries, Rachel Carson, and your “silent spring” would have been filled with the hubbub from a throng of marauding robins.) I soon learned of the cunning that lurked in that bob, bob, bobbin’ head. If I was tending row one, R. redbreast was pillaging row nine. If I was puttering about the end of row six, I could count on a feathered varmint gashing fruit at the far end. Sometimes a clever bird would hunker down between rows and gouge away, knowing its gray feathered back was indistinguishable from the soil. Exasperated and hoping to deter the enemy by way of example, I took the shotgun, administered capital punishment to a redbreast, drove a pole in the middle of the patch and dangled the corpse from the top. To my despair another bird quickly replaced the deceased and showing total disrespect for his fellow, perched atop the gibbet from where it could spot the largest, juiciest fruit in the entire patch and then launch himself post haste in that direction, leaving his late cousin swinging in the breeze.

Berry farmer zero, robins 2. At season’s end, before the score climbed further, in frustration I tilled up the entire patch and the following spring planted a row of raspberries in its place.

A half dozen years ago I was again seduced (“fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…”you know the rest) by the fine patch of strawberries Tony cultivated south of his house. The succulent red orbs, an amalgam of Tualco Valley soil and sunshine, heavy sweetness, nestled on a layer of golden straw--a hygienic buffer between berries and soil. A second time I was swept away. I admit a slight uneasiness, however, because of an earlier spring vision I had of a man braving the maelstrom of the elements, stooped by cold, methodically pulling a hoe back and forth between strawberry plants, a vision blurred by the warmth of the woodstove I huddled by. It was Tony the berry man, of course.

This time it was only three rows. I thought the straw was a nice touch. I broke and spread a couple bales to keep the ripening berries from the earth. Then deja vu. The descendants of the pole swinging robin descended on the patch by day. But this second time around they had competition. At night slugs, big slimy ones, oozed out of the nearby hedge. Under the cover of darkness they wrapped themselves around their prey, devoured the flesh, leaving only seed peppered skins and a cup-like ghost of the berry that was. Nighttime vigils, flashlight and garden clippers in hand, ensued. But the twenty-four hours’ competition overwhelmed me. The Valley robins and slugs reigned supreme. It was back to the raspberries again.

Robins, 1/3 share, slugs, 1/3 share—and a meager 1/4 portion for this frustrated berry farmer. (The math…I know…let the robins and slugs battle it out for the balance). Now in strawberry season I go down the road to Kurt’s vegetable stand--looking over my shoulder the whole time to make sure I’m not being followed.

Print this post

No comments:

Post a Comment