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The harvest

The harvest.

Monsoon is gone, we had our first hard frost at The Arboretum, and the sumacs and maples there are turning red. Out here in Doney, the rabbitbrush is in full bloom, and I'm picking the last of the cucumbers. All the grasses are beginning to brown, and when the purple asters fade, it will be time to mow. The drying grasses, heavy with seedheads, almost smell like Pennsylvania.

Back on the farm when I was growing up, late summer was time for one last haying. My father used an old hay baler that had been left behind as junk by the previous owners. Somehow he and his brothers got it to work, but it was always breaking down. We used to joke that everything on the farm was fixed with duct tape, twine and clothes pins--not far from the truth.

We kids always looked forward to baling weekends. The fields had been cut, rolled and raked into straight lines, and we all waited for the hay to dry, for the perfect time to get the old baler working. The men would get it started (to cheers) and hook it up to the old Allis Chalmers (also left by the previous owners). The day started early. Our cousins would come, and the stronger ones would follow the baler through the fields, hoisting the bales into the bed of a 1956 Studebaker pickup truck. (Yup, left there by the previous owners.) I don't think my father ever actually bought any farm equipment.

I usually drove the Studebaker, jolting over the fields, as the truck filled with bales. The younger kids would ride on top of the bales until the stacks got too high, and then we'd make a run to the barn to unload and stack. Over and over, backing the truck into the hay loft, all of us covered head to toe with hay dust and chopped grass, dropping from exhaustion. It was a blast.

Baling was one of the few times my sister and I got to work with my father and his brothers on the farm, and when we got into our teens, sometimes at the end of long, hot filthy day, we'd get to drink a bottle of Schaeffer beer (brewed in Pennsylvania).

Mother would have been in the farmhouse, canning. She canned tomatoes, tomato juice, and even made her own ketchup (which didn't taste anything like store-bought ketchup, so we hated it.) She canned all sorts of pickles--sweet, dill, hot, and sometimes made chow chow, a Pennsylvania Dutch pickled salad made from any end of season vegetables: cucumbers, beans, peppers, cauliflower, carrots, corn, or whatever was on hand. A clever use of produce, but not something my sister or I ever liked.

The kitchen counters, covered with bowls of produce earlier in the season, now were covered in glistening Ball jars of tomatoes, cucumbers, chow chow, and assorted jams and jellies. At dinner, the sound of the canning lids popping (sealing) was a triumph. Another jar sealed! Another jar to add to the shelves in the cellar for winter!

I still have my long, hot filthy days. Sometimes work related, but more often at home, riding, taking care of the horses, gardening, or mowing. It's still a blast.

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Lynne Nemeth, executive director of The Arboretum at Flagstaff, is the editor of Gardening Etcetera. To reach her with articles or ideas, please email


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