GUEST COLUMN: Letter from Dogwood

The seed catalogs start coming in January, and I am always jealous of the photos: huge, glossy, unmarred vegetables unlike my own smaller, insect-gnawed produce. I’ll buy my usual beans ‘n’ taters ‘n’ maters from the local dealers, but I always thumb through new catalogs and pick a couple of unusual items I cannot find locally. 

This spring I see a new variety of okra: “Heavy Hitter,” it’s called, and hugely productive, the catalog writer says. That’s good. We love okra and can eat it several times a week and even freeze it for winter soups. It’s been successful here until last year when the deer, who had never bothered it before, decided to demolish the entire stand. I was hurt by that. We’d had a pact, I thought – I don’t hunt you, you leave my garden alone.

I also spot a French cantaloupe seed with the romantic name, “Petit Gris de Rennes.” I have no idea what that translates to, but other than snails, you can pretty much trust the French about food. This sounds delicious and it’s going in the garden. I’ve had good luck with cantaloupe and the family should enjoy these. So far, deer have never eaten my cantaloupe. So far.

I choose two hot peppers. I don’t eat hot peppers. At my age, I don’t dare eat hot peppers, but my son and a friend of his seem to enjoy them, so I order “Apocalypse Scorpion” and “Death Spiral.” That’s not French and I can translate those names and they are not in the least romantic. They are terrifying. They sound like lethal chemical agents. They also sound like something the deer dare not eat, either, so in they go.

The old-timers say plant your potatoes by Saint Patrick’s Day, and I try for that date. If the ground is not too wet, they’ll do fine. Pull off a few bugs and your potatoes ought to be okay. Enjoy the immature ones when they are “new,” with lots of Irish butter.

The old-timers also say plant your sweet corn when the leaves on maple trees are the size of a squirrel’s ear, and that’s worked for me before, back when I used to grow sweet corn. Back then, I had to find ways to ward off the crows so they wouldn’t pull up the sprouting seed, and if I succeeded at that, then the raccoons attacked at night and ate the young ears. I quit trying. It’s a shame – I love sweet corn, as most of us do. Garrison Keillor even wrote a song about sweet corn that I wish I had written, but if he had had my problems with assorted varmints, he’d have been reduced to writing about root vegetables that smell strongly of dirt, and besides, it’s hard to rhyme “rutabagas.”

David Black lives in Louisa County.

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