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Up here on the top of Belcher Mountain, we have a short growing season, and it's a good thing, too. Otherwise we would have disappeared long ago under a mountain of greenbriar vines, crabgrass, squash vines, orchard grass, cucumber vines, timothy, tomato vines, locust shoots, dill weed, alfalfa, hawthorn, and new varieties of ill-tempered weeds that science has yet to discover. Well, ok, seems like it anyway.

But lest it seem like I'm complaining, let me take it all back. It has been marvellous to watch, this past month as the garden down by the creek started coming in like the legendary Wabash Cannonball came into the station — with a rumble and a roar, if not exactly a jingle, too. It took a while to get up steam, though. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, cukes and a half dozen other things that were planted in June sat there for a couple of months, pretty much ignoring the careful ministrations of this, that and the other: cool spring water piped in on a gravity-fed line from the old springhouse, a king's ransom in some of the prettiest compost you ever saw, careful additions of an organic fertilizer that looked like thin sand and cost roughly the same as gold dust.

The weather never really got hot, so it took a while for these plants to absorb enough sun to begin measuring up. Then shortly after July 4 we began getting some regular afternoon rains, and by the first week in August, everything was coming in like crazy. (Well, ok, not the corn. The corn we planted in late May, and which had begun pushing up before we left for a long trip, turned into a buffet for the crows, or some kind of bird. When we got back, there were maybe 21 pathetic stalks left, and so they have remained ever since, bedraggled sentinels reminding us of the folly of turning our backs on the predators nature sends us to remind us not to get too swelled-headed about our ability to squeeze food out of the ground. Something got the eggplant we put out too, come to think of it. It has been so long.)

But otherwise it has been a month of bounty — and of pulling weeds and mowing the tall grass and trying to keep up with the high tide of produce. The tomatoes have been especially good — anatomically correct Dolly Partons, nice red German Johnsons and hundreds and hundreds of cocktail tomatoes that have graced our plates for weeks on end. The cucumbers now mostly repose in jars of bread-and-butter pickles. The zukes and the yellow squash have made wonderful casseroles, and lot more went into freeze bags for the winter. The banana peppers are rolling in at an unholy rate, some of the hotter ones destined to be pickled this afternoon, and the green peppers have been hollowed and stuffed and packed off to the freezer for dim evenings in January and February. The potatoes have finally all been grabbled out, dusted off and put up in baskets under the house. We might even pick a pot of okra if the drizzle lets up.

It only took about 15 months of fence-building to cut down on the daily visits by bunnies and other critters of the fields and woods. A neighbor reminds me that we've probably only insured that the rabbits cannot get out once they figure out how to get in, and that the deer will hop about anything we put up or else they'll just bull their way through. Maybe. But we put in about 270 feet of field fence stretched around new 6" posts. We topped that with another couple of feet of barbed wire — my friends down home know it as bobwar — and still something was getting in. So we ran through another 270 feet of 1-inch chicken wire, using about 1,500 zip strips to fasten it against the sturdier field fence, to further discourage the bunny invasion. We buried the bottom 6 inches or so of the chicken wire in the ground and piled on a goodly percentage of the million-or-so stones that my in-laws hauled out of the garden when they tilled each spring for going on 40 years.

I won't say it'll keep everything out of the garden. I do expect it will slow unauthorized animals down at least a little until the pickins get slim and the frost takes the rest. On the other hand, I also expect the deer will be up here by the house, gnawing down liriope and the last of the day lillies and whatever else they choose for a snack. Well, shoot, everybody's got to eat.

Jack Betts

Jack Betts is retired associate editor of The Charlotte Observer.

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