Harvest Season a Special Time

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Squash is best when fresh from your garden.
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Tomatoes taste terrific straight off the vine.

Among my most vivid childhood memories are late summer days walking a tomato field at the North Dakota seed company and nursery that my great-grandfather started in the early 1880s. Sometimes I was there with my dad, other times my chaperone was an unlucky employee charged with looking after the kid for the day. In either case, the experience was one of overwhelming bounty, and it was there that I had my first taste of a vine-ripened tomato, still warm from the sun. I bit into a ripe tomato, as one might take a chunk out of an apple, and let the warm, acidic juice run down my chin. My dad loved to eat tomatoes that way; I wasn’t so sure at first, but the experience no doubt set me on a tomato-loving course that compelled me to grow the fruit wherever home was, even when a proper garden was out of the question. 

The nursery’s interest in growing fields of tomatoes and melons and beans was to produce seed; my family’s immediate interest in the fruits and grains was as food – and to preserve the seasonal bounty for good eating all year. Great gardens followed my family when we moved away from North Dakota after the business was sold. My mother and I grew tomatoes, green beans, eggplant, peppers and so much more, all to be eaten fresh in season with the excess canned or frozen for later. 

Growing food was a habit so ingrained that when I headed off to college in Chicago, I quickly claimed squatter’s rights to a vacant lot covered with brick fragments left from a building demolition project. There I coaxed crops of tomatoes, onions, beets, spinach, kohlrabi and peppers from the tough clay ground. One year, I had so many onions that I added dehydrating to freezing and canning as a means to manage the garden’s bounty. The other day, while rooting around in the barn, I discovered a carton of canning jars that still contained tomato sauce and summer sunshine I captured many years ago. I certainly won’t eat the sauce, but I didn’t have the heart to throw the jars’ contents away either. 

So far, this has been a bountiful year here at Grit. We’ve been able to launch the Community Chickens website (www.CommunityChickens.com), which is a clearinghouse that’s devoted to backyard flocks and the people who keep them. We have also embarked on a large poultry-hatching project. In the process of placing incubators and fertile eggs, we discovered a passionate community of poultry enthusiasts here at the office that includes Publisher Bryan Welch, Classified Advertising Rep Connie Roberts, Graphic Design Specialist Taylor Miller and Mother Earth News Associate Editor Troy Griepentrog. James Duft, marketing guru, got so excited about all the poultry activity that he secured a beautiful chicken coop from Horizon Structures that we plan to give to one lucky sweepstakes winner. Visit www.CommunityChickens.com for your chance to win the coop.

Whether it’s raising your first chickens, harvesting your first tomato or baking your first sourdough bread, we’d love to know what you are up to this season. We’d especially love to learn how you plan to preserve your own bounty this year. If you keep a country journal and would like to share it through a blog at www.Grit.com or www.CommunityChickens.com, just let me know (hwill@grit.com).

See you in September.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.