Too Much of a Good Thing
Thank God the peaches are gone. The last three weeks I’ve had so many peaches—peaches on cereal, peaches in yogurt, peaches with ice cream, peach cobbler, peach pie, grilled peaches—I think my skin is turning orange. And if fruit keeps you regular I’m too regular to leave the house right now.
Five years ago, when I planted those four trees, I had that city guy fantasy of strolling out with my cereal bowl and plucking breakfast right off the tree. The fantasy persisted through the lean years, when there was little or no fruit, but was rudely preempted last month by the arrival of the Peach Tsunami. Unfortunately nature doesn’t seem interested in modulating her output to accommodate my fantasies.
I should have learned from the tomatoes. The first tomato of the year is always a delight but by late summer I avert my eyes as I pass the garden so as not to see them all rotting on the vine. And surely I should have learned my lesson from the squash. That old joke about people finding their cars broken into and zucchinis left on their seats this time of year doesn’t seem quite so implausible after you’ve spent a season or two trying to work squash into everything you eat.
The thing about growing fruits and vegetables—and even raising eggs—is supply quickly outstrips demand. Before you know it you’re no longer a consumer, you’re a farmer (okay, I very small one), and a farmer without a market. Sure, you could set up one of those self-serve tables, but it’s hardly worth the bother. So you force yourself to eat this stuff that just last January you were drooling over in the seed catalogue—eat so much of it you can’t even say its name without feeling sick to your stomach. And the rest you give away.
That should be the easy part but, with so much to unload, you become a sort adoption agency, madly scrambling to find good homes for all those homeless fruits, vegetables, and eggs. Eggs are the easiest. I can always find takers for what I don’t eat, and there’s no rush because they can be refrigerated. But peaches, much as they’re appreciated, have a very short shelf life. Only about a third of what drops off the tree is actually worth keeping, the rest being too nibbled by chipmunks and bugs to make it to the kitchen. This turns out to be a blessing—when they’re coming at you that fast and furious, any excuse to triage a few is appreciated. I dump the rejects in front of the chicken coop. This set off a feeding frenzy the first time I did it, but now even the chickens run when they see me coming with that peach bucket.
The best foster parents are city people (I know this, having recently been one). The idea that you can pluck from your backyard what you would normally have to buy in a supermarket is still a miraculous concept to them (though all those green markets are starting to jade them a bit). When I have an appointment in the city I sometimes bring along a dozen eggs (just watching people’s faces light up when they open the carton and see all those “exotic” colors makes it worth the schlep). But you can only palm so many squash and tomatoes off on your city friends before they start crossing the street when they see you coming. Sometimes I bring the excess to a soup kitchen, which makes me feel both good and depressed. Good because I’m contributing to a good cause, depressed because it’s one place where the supply clearly can’t keep up with the demand.
The least attractive option is dumping your surplus in the compost pile. This is the agricultural equivalent of making a movie and having it go straight to video. It’s not a complete waste—after all, there’s a place in the universe for lousy movies and compost. But you can’t shake the feeling that you’ve failed somehow.
So here I am, living in paradise, enjoying its bounty, yet somehow managing to feel like a failure. Guess I’m still a city guy after all.
The Wannabe Farmer
A Chicken Murder Mystery