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Veggie sticker shock

Friday, March 18th, 2011


My garden’s tilled and my seeds bought. And once again after 53 years I’m a gardner.

YUCAIPA, CA – My wife does the grocery shopping, but occasionally I make a trip to the supermarket for a few things. Yesterday was one such trip. What a shock when I ventured into the produce section.

Tomatoes, $2.99 a pound, broccoli, $1.99 a pound, green leaf lettuce, $1.99 a bunch, cucumbers $1.49 each – EACH!, carrots, 99-cents a pound (what a bargain!), and dandelion greens $1.99 a pound.

(Every summer I poison these troublesome yellow sprouting weeds when they take over my lawn. And now they sell for $1.99 a pound?)

With those prices, I settled on the carrots. I also realized it was time for me to plant a garden. And gardening is not my favorite springtime activity.

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A quick trip to the grocery store

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009


YUCAIPA, CA – This has been a good growing season for tomatoes in the Otto garden. Our plants are loaded with plump, bright red tomatoes. Some bigger than a baseball.

Right now a large bowl of tomatoes rounded in a half-moon shape sits on the kitchen counter. And there’s more ripe tomatoes hanging on the vines waiting to be picked.

Gardening is such hard work. Especially when there are only two of us to tend to our four fruitful tomato plants.

About now some serious gardeners are howling. Including my mom just laughing from Heaven on high. “My poor, overworked little gardener,” mom’s probably saying to Saint Pete.

I remember as a young boy in the late 1950s and ‘60s when mom planted super sized gardens every spring. She grew long, straight rows of potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles, string beans, carrots, radishes, and onions.

From all my hoeing and weeding, it seemed as though mom’s garden stretched as long and wide as a football field.

It wasn’t nearly that big, but when you’re tending a garden under a hot sun, it sure seems like it.

It’s pretty simple for most Americans today. What little we plant and eat from our miniature gardens, the rest we buy at the grocery store.

But for mom, there was no grocery store nearby. And little money to buy such store bought produce. So she had to be self-reliant to feed her family fresh vegetables during the summer months. And she had to can and preserve vegetables to feed us over the long, cold Minnesota winter months.

Mom’s canning stretched out for three and four days at a time as varieties of vegetables ripened. And she canned tomatoes more than anything else. My brother Bill and sisters Beverly and Carolyn, and I did most of the picking.

We plucked tomatoes from long, stringy vines and filled small pails and baskets, lugging them into mom’s kitchen.

On her kitchen stove, mom heated water in a large tub. Then she gently lowered the tomatoes into the tub for a minute or two. Just enough time for the skin to scald. Next she peeled off the skin and cut the tomatoes into chunks, and stuffed them into Bell canning jars.

Once the jars were sealed, mom carried them down the cellar steps and stacked the jars on long shelves that filled the walls of our earthen floor cellar.

When the canning season finished, the cellar brimmed with dozens of jars of all colors: yellow for sweet corn; green for string beans and dill pickles; purple for rhubarb jelly; and bright red for tomatoes.

When winter came and mom was about to cook supper, she would send me down into the cellar.

“Bring up two jars of tomatoes and a jar of corn,” she might say. “And be careful you don’t drop them.”

In today’s modern world, canning has gone the wayside. Much like the Model T, it’s outdated and much to slow and time consuming. Cellars and basements no longer store shelves of Bell jars stacked in long rows filled with vegetables of all colors.

Just four fruitful tomato plants to tend. And a quick trip to the grocery store.