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Thursday, October 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Front Porch: Feeling normal again as fall harvest, canning begin

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 20, 2020

By Stefanie Pettit For The Spokesman-Review

It’s finally truly autumn – time to close up shop for my outdoors growing things.

I’m in various stages of putting the vegetable, fruit and flower garden to bed. Green tomatoes taken indoors to complete ripening, some half-eaten annuals pulled out of the ground (the deer having removed the edible parts in their fall migration through my front yard) and pausing to enjoy the final burst of color from my dahlias and geraniums.

It’s all so very normal. No COVID-19 precautions or concerns involved in the process. No having to think about whether an activity is safe or not (other than being careful not to trip over a hose). Fall garden work isn’t a new normal activity, as so many of my other formerly normal activities have become. This is just plain normal-normal, which is what makes it so comforting, familiar and refreshing. And sorely needed.

Things have become more and more challenging in these pandemic and weird political times, and I feel the malaise spreading in and around me. But just doing such normal tasks in their normal manner – who ever considered that this could be the new highlight of pleasure?

Not that it doesn’t have its challenges. Fruit and vegetable harvest and processing are satisfying and uplifting and, as everyone knows, taking place pretty much all at the same time. My friend Suzanne shared boxes and boxes of plums from her bountiful tree in the same week Bruce and I picked apples from our Golden Delicious and Granny Smith trees. Some lovely small pumpkins have come our way and have been dutifully cooked, some recipes deployed and the rest of the pulp frozen. The remaining viable stalks of rhubarb also gathered.

I churned out 20 quarts of plums and three batches of plum jam, plus I’ve shared bags of plums with friends all over town. Normally, we’d wait for a frost or two before picking apples, but we have to be ahead of schedule this year since I’m having hip replacement surgery in early November, and I’d like to have my applesauce all made before then.

Last year I made 70 quarts. I should mention that I eat a lot of applesauce.

Other garden produce is being turned into jams, jellies and pickled products for our own consumption and for Christmas gifts and to supply an offspring in Seattle. Our son Sam jokes that the last time he ate store-bought jam was when he was a kid and at a friend’s house. I made a nice little fruit salad using the few pears we got this year from our spindly little pear tree.

There’s final weed pulling, digging out a dying plant, extra water for a particularly thirsty-looking one and now having to haul pine needles up from the yard below in those blue buckets from Lowe’s, then dumping them into the green garden waste bin by the driveway (the ability to haul the big green bin down to the lower yard temporarily unavailable). It takes a lot of buckets and a lot of trips back and forth to fill up the bin, but I have a whole week to do it before starting all over again. Like Sisyphus and that darned rock. Good exercise, though my ailing hip might argue otherwise.

I really pushed last week, as I wanted to get as much done outdoors as possible before the warm and sunny early fall weather turned this past weekend into the rainy and cooler weather that’s upon us.

Mission not quite accomplished, but well on the way toward completion. Apples, I hope, are currently being cooked for the aforementioned applesauce. Every year is kind of like that. There are always other things that intervene with the fruit-veggie-flower assembly line schedule. But they’re easy peasy ones. Normal ones.

I am so loving this normal-normal. Pretty much everything else has had to be readjusted, rearranged, omitted. But not this.

The dirt is the dirt, the flowers continue to bloom and die, the deer continue to poach, and I get to feel a little bit normal myself.

And maybe a little bit healed from the malaise that’s still out there, but not in my garden.

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Fall means the onset of the cold and flu season.