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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Off the Grid: A garden that grows more than vegetables

Autumn. The leaves are turning hues of gold and red. The sound of the wind rustling through them has a subtle crispness to it, different from the soft and lush rush of the summer breeze.

It’s that time of the year that pumpkin spice everything emerges on menus, our sweaters move to the top of our drawers, and I at last harvest the inadequacies of my garden efforts.

But I do it with pride.

The broccoli, both purple and green, stands nearly 4 feet tall. No matter that it never broccolied. The aphids seems to be enjoying it just fine anyway.

There are three pumpkins – or squashes – that grew large enough to be a meal, but now appear to be a kind (scallop) that one eats before they resemble petrified wood, which is seldom found in recipes these days.

The 36 tomato bushes produced approximately 36 x 1,014 tomatoes each, which is fortunate because no one in my family actually likes tomatoes.

They do add a lovely bit of color to the yard. Now that the frost has come, they drip from the dead bushes like tears of abandoned marinara sauce.

There were a few unidentifiable peppers, two successful eggplants, and the beet crop this year was delightful. We ate at least six and only three were mistaken for radishes. The kale continues to be indestructible, by wildlife or our digestive systems.

The marigolds, planted to deter critters, successfully choked out enough of the vegetable crops that no deer or ground squirrels even bothered perusing the rows as they’d have more luck finding something edible in the wild. The long-term plan is to discourage them with scarcity, or perhaps they’ve just taken pity on me.

The plum tree ripened on a Thursday when I was not home to pick them. The apples grew to the size of the pumpkin/squashes and fell heavily from the tree while still tart. Those will be sauced and used as gifts for friends who ask me to serve on any nonprofit board in the coming year.

Still, there is a sweetness to the ritual of shutting down the yard for the season. The lawn was mowed a last time, the desolate and neglected flower pots moved aside, the badminton net taken down, the firewood moved and stacked.

The garden will be laid to rest for the fall and winter, and true to the nature of such seasons, I will sink into the regenerative and amnesiac magic of rest. By January, I’ll be thumbing seed catalogs in an annual ritual regarded as “Misplaced Hope” by even the most optimistic friends.

Admittedly, from time to time, even I feel discouraged, but something always redeems my efforts. This weekend it was a child from the city. The real city – downtown L.A. Her hair fell in perfect little coils at the back of her neck, bouncing when she ran throw the rows of sagging greens.

She reached up for an apple.

“You have to twist them like this,” she said as she instructed me on proper apple-plucking technique.

Her apple popped off the branch and she caught it in both hands and held it to her chest.

“Then you have to catch it like this,” she said, demonstrating the delicate movement as she cradled it in her little arms.

She rolled the apple over and looked at it. Quality control.

“There’s a bug,” she said, flicking it off with her finger. “What kind of bug is that?” She watched it crawl over her pink-tipped cowboy boot, a gardener’s staple.

“A black one with pincers,” I answer, wondering myself. “In Latin they are Blackoneous Pincerilia, but I don’t know the colloquial term.” The trick with 4-year-olds is to always sound confident.

“Colloquial …” she said under her breath as she set the apple in the bucket.

The sun reflected off her stray blonde hairs in the evening light. She tromped over the strawberry patch, poked at a slug, and pointed at a dead leek blossom standing like a giant dandelion.

“I wish I could pick that flower,” she said.

I snipped it off and handed it to her. She stared at it with wonder, then shoved the whole thing around her nose and took a deep breath.

She took the blossom back to L.A. with her. If those moments are all I ever harvest from my garden, they will be enough.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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