Tackett: Home gardeners are no strangers to sharing the bounty of the season

Dan Tackett

The passing of the seasons, combined with other of nature’s factors, has turned my once green and lush garden into an ugly, dying mess. It happens every year.

The cucumber vines have given up the ghost on my seven-foot-tall wire fence, which they climbed over the top by mid-summer. A few overgrown cukes are now easily visible on the fence where I missed them during near daily harvesting at the plants’ peak. The melon vines – both cantaloupe and watermelon – also have died and turned brown.

The potatoes are long gone. They didn’t do well this summer and by mid-July their tops had turned to crisp vegetation, which simply was too early to produce giant spuds. Even the prolific zucchini plants are on their last legs.

The few green pepper plants I planted still look healthy and are finally producing, but the peppers seem small. Most of them look imperfectly shaped.

On the other hand, I have nice looking carrots and beets that I haven’t dug yet. And my tomato plants are going crazy with green foliage that’s escaping the cages in which they grew. On top of that, they are working overtime to produce a better than average crop. Mainly because spring was cool and wet, I didn’t get my tomatoes in the ground very early this season. I can usually count on enjoying that first red tomato around the Fourth of July, but this past season, it was well past Aug. 1 when I bit into my first home-grown tomato. As it so happens every gardening season, it was well worth the wait.

We’ve eaten fresh tomatoes for almost every meal in late summer and early fall, and have gone through a few batches of fresh homemade salsa. We’ve canned enough juice, whole tomatoes and tomato sauce to last through the next three winters, although I’ve made a vow to use tomatoes more often in my winter kitchen concoctions.

I’ve harvested and shelled out my pinto beans, which did produce a respectable crop this season. My two short rows of green beans are nothing but stems, thanks to a small handful of young rabbits that must consider the leaves and the beans a must-have delicacy. Those pesky bunnies have found every way possible to get through and under what I once thought was a rabbit-proof wire fence.

I have shared plenty of tomatoes with the two good neighbors who live across the street. We have a relatively new neighbor family that has fallen into misfortune because the head of that household has been dealt a bad hand with health issues. I made sure they had fresh sweetcorn and now, tomatoes.

Don’t get the idea I’m tooting my horn here. I believe sharing fresh produce with family, friends and neighbors is something that comes naturally to home gardeners. It’s what we do, and we don’t expect anything other than a smile and friendship in return.

I couldn’t help but think about gardeners’ willingness to share their bounty with others when I skimmed through a recent news release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The “news” focused on the agency expanding its People’s Garden Initiative. Expanding how I wondered. Did it mean that since I and hundreds of other home gardeners who share their bounty could suddenly qualify for one of USDA’s subsidies? Would it mean the more people you can list as beneficiaries of your gardening-season goodwill the fatter the government check?

I don’t think so, not after a closer reading of the news release. The program’s expansion, the release did say, would include “eligible gardens nationwide – and that means urban gardens of all kinds all across Illinois. School gardens, community gardens, urban farms and small-scale agriculture projects in rural, suburban and urban areas can be recognized as a ‘People’s Garden” if …” If what?

Well, those interested first need to register on the USDA website and meet certain criteria, “including benefitting the community, working collaboratively, incorporating conservation practices and educating the public.”

If you successfully jump through all those hoops, here’s what you get: Your garden will be indicated on a map on the USDA website and you’ll be given a “People’s Garden” sign to post at your cabbage patch or by your tomato plants.

What? No subsidies? We, the generous gardeners of America, won’t be reimbursed or partially so for the expense of our seeds and plants, fertilizer and pesticides, maybe even cash to pay for a special tool we could use. How about our labor? That’s correct. Money is not involved, and for this being a program of the federal government is a rare, but good thing.

This seems to be all about people helping people. Most home gardeners I know already have that spirit in their souls. May this expanded federal initiative nurture that same giving spirit in many others.

Dan Tackett is a retired managing editor of The Courier. He can be reached at dtackett@gmail.com

This article originally appeared on Lincoln Courier: USDA People's Garden program recognizes efforts that share the bounty