Monday, July 16, 2012

Pumpkin Patch

I have a pumpkin patch, though not through my own effort, desire, or design. My kids planted it this spring based on a Native American planting system termed The Three Sisters where corn, pole beans, and pumpkins are planted together. Corn, a heavy feeder, benefits from the beans which bring nitrogen into the soil. In turn, the corn stalks provide the perfect climbing frame for beans. Pumpkin plants, light feeders, provide shade to the corn and beans. These three foods, purportedly staples of native cultures that provided storable crops for winter, were planted thus to capitalize on symbiosis.

Growing in our garden this year, where we don't have much else planted, the Three Sisters thrive. Cleverly planted in integrative harmony, each providing support, nourishment, and caring to the others, they seem very like a family. It's been fun to watch them grow--particularly as this has not been an easy year for growing things not only in our region but all over the world. High heat is crippling much of the US and where it is not drought conditions there have been freak storms and flooding. One wishes there were a way to scoop up all that flood water up and deposit it on the hard-baked dirt, rutted with crevasses in the drought regions.

For plants to survive this kind of weather, they do rely on human intervention.

I looked out the window yesterday afternoon and my harmonic, happy plant family was wilted. The pumpkin patch looked downtrodden, drooping in the heat, and the edges of the corn leaves were dry and brittle. It was 95 degrees, not hot for us for July, but far hotter than I prefer. However, having seen the state of things, I knew I would never be able to sleep that night if I didn't get out and water the garden.

It was hot, as I said, so I donned the only appropriate apparel, a bikini, and ventured out. I dragged the hose up the yard, waded deep into the wilted pumpkin leaves and turned the soaker on them. It made me feel better to be doing it. I imagined the cool sensation I always feel when suddenly relieved of unbearable heat, I imagined a desperate thirst being quenched by cold water.

There were pumpkins hiding everywhere amongst the foliage. I have no idea what we will do with them all, should they survive to be ripe and edible, but it was a joy just to see them; dark green globes with pale streaks of lighter green and just the beginning shading of orange in places. There were beans as well, climbing up the stalks and the first thickening of corn ears showed at various junctions.

I love to garden and haven't been able to do much of it lately. It may have been that love-induced absorption in plant-life that prevented me from hearing the distant rumble and roll of the thunder. I first became aware of the storm when raindrops began to fall, warm as bathwater and the size of dimes. I thought about hanging up the soaker and heading indoors, but it was not clear from the partially over-cast sky how much rain would be falling. I opted to persevere, thinking too much water would probably be better than too little.

That is how my twelve-year-old daughter found me. The front door flung open as she popped her head out into the rain and shouted, "Mom! What are you doing?!"

As it would happen, that early rain had become a torrent. I looked up. The whole sky was dark, rain falling in sheets.

What was I doing?

I was watering the garden in my bikini in a down-pour.

Oh, well, at least the pumpkins are happy.