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Try to Put the Garden on Standby and Enjoy the Winter


This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills. Well, November is here finally. The frost officially found the Halloween pumpkins, and the relentless garden has finally gone to bed. And so can we, just as soon as we figure out where to put those last jars of applesauce and those boxes of sweet and Irish potatoes.

You know, don’t you, that the garden is actually never done? It’s just been put on slow forward.

There is still more garlic to plant, not to mention the potato onions. And all that mess of mulch and weeds to deal with. Last year I was very smug about that. I just waited until everything above ground was freeze dried, then put a match to it, totally forgetting the trailing blackberry canes. I’d also forgotten to trellis and get them out of the way.

So this year I didn’t get any blackberries, ok? They are totally forgiving, though, and came back from the roots with a vengeance. And now they are trellised up out of harm’s way. And this year I’m not gonna burn anything except those clumps of gone-to-seed grasses in the fencerow.

All and all, I’d have to say this was one fine gardening year for me, and in my second year of this garden patch, just about everything I planted delivered abundantly, not to mention the loads of volunteers that pumped out tomatoes of every description, along with cantaloupes, the occasional watermelon and loads of cucumbers. Of course, as you already know if you’re a gardener of any experience, a few of the cantaloupes tasted a little like cucumbers, and the watermelons were, for the most part, worthless. But all in all, that little patch where the compost used to be delivered mightily.

The only real puzzle was where those yellow cherry tomatoes came from. A half-dozen of those volunteer plants literally festooned the garden with little inch-wide globes of pure golden sweetness from July all the way to frost. Problem is, nobody who filled that old compost pile remembers planting or bringing home any yellow cherries. 

The explanation could be a simple one. I was, you may remember, away for the late summer and most of the fall, getting treatments intended to evict, once and for all, that pesky recurring cancer that had tried to kill me some years previously. While I was away north in St. Louis, several folks came and went, tending plants, seeing to the chores, and presumably sometimes bringing lunch. And composting the leftovers. That’s the most probable answer. But no one will fess up. So the mystery continues. But not, thank heavens, the harvest. The beans are all picked, the tomatoes canned, the corn frozen or dried. And the herbs to season them with are tucked away crisply in their little packets. Enough is enough. And too much, as my grandmother would say, is plenty.

There is now some possibility that I will eventually eat all the remaining yellow cherries, although I haven’t yet. There is a good chance I will clear enough debris from the dirt to get the rest of the garlic and onions planted before the ground freezes, and the little bulbs are waiting patiently on the shelf, confident that I will not forget them. And I may yet find a place for those last three jars of applesauce, although I confess that even as we speak, I am contemplating maybe canning a few of a just acquired bushel of Jonagolds that had been destined to be tucked into a chilly closet on the north wall, as insurance against the inevitable depression that comes with deep midwinter. If this happens to you, please be advised. Jonagolds are a tried and tested cure. Still, I could use maybe a few pints of canned apples.

Harvests, of course, come in all forms and they all have their challenges. I listened one evening not long ago to a proud father who has been taking his daughter out hunting on the property next to me for the trophy buck that she covets. That buck has not yet appeared. But while out there in the blind, waiting, they have watched as many as 15 other, smaller deer gambol and play in the field, and all manners of turkey, and once, a bobcat. At this point, he said, they don’t really care if they get the deer. The reward has already come, just in being out there.

In whatever way we grow our gardens, it is always a challenge to not get too far ahead of ourselves, to avoid as well falling too far behind, while at the same time struggling with the very present challenges of the here and now. On the calendar, we are nearing the year’s end, while on the clock, we have reclaimed the lost hour of summer, relinquishing our evenings in the out-of-doors for more long evenings by the fireside, and finding comfort now in the promise of the long dark and its hours for contemplation, its rest from the relentless harvest, and its abundance of time to ponder the gifts of the seasons. Holiday festivities will be here soon, and soon after, the seed catalogs.

This is Marideth Sisco, reminding you that however tempting are the gifts of the seasons in these Ozarks hills, it is also a blessing to take respite from the harvest, and remind ourselves to enjoy the equally cool gifts of winter.

Marideth is a Missouri storyteller, veteran journalist, teacher, author, musician and student of folklore focusing on stories relevant to Ozarks culture and history. Each month, she’s the voice behind "These Ozarks Hills.” Sisco spent 20 years as an investigative and environmental writer for the West Plains Quill and was well known for her gardening column, “Crosspatch,” on which her new book is based. Sisco was a music consultant and featured singer in the 2010 award-winning feature film “Winter's Bone.”