Sunday, February 08, 2009

ZUCCHINI NATION - A case of Gardeners Gone Wild

Dear Mr. Burpee,

We want to compliment you on your catalogue's exquisite photos showing luscious red tomatoes that one might be willing to die for, sweet corn so yellow so succulent looking, bright orange crunchy carrots...well we could go on and on about your fine garden produce. In a word, the photos in your catalogue are intoxicating. Too intoxicating for some of us.

Now we are sure that 99.9999% of your customers have no problem keeping in check any tendencies they might have to indulge themselves and give in to every gardening whim that crops up in their minds while they thumb through your catalogue. Unfortunately, we belong to that minuscule percent of customers who can not keep such tendencies in check. Maybe it is because we are new at this gardening thing. We don't know the underlying cause of our problem. All we know is that we have a problem.

You can readily see from the humongous order we placed with you earlier this year that we have a problem and are prime candidates for some kind of intervention although we do not think such a program is in place yet anywhere in the world for gardeners gone wild. Consequently we are on our own in that regard and must devise our own curative measures for dealing with our excessiveness. We will begin by asking you, no begging you, to please not send us any more of your seed catalogues. We can't be trusted with them.

Mr. and Mrs. P


This was the letter we should have sent the Burpee Seed Company at the close of 1975. We were more than just budding gardeners back then. We were budding gardeners gone wild. We overindulged ourselves. We didn't know when enough was enough and we didn't know exactly what we were doing either. That year has gone down in our family history as the year of the zucchini. But it could easily be known as the year of the tomato too. And the year of the sweet corn. And the year of the potato.

It all started with an especially drab and dreary winter that year. It snowed a lot, but it wasn't pretty snow. It was the kind of snow that melts a little and then looks messy for days. The skies were a constant gray. A chilling mist that makes the bones ache seemed always to be seeping from overhead. You just wanted to hole up inside the house and let cabin fever have its way with you.

What made it worse is that we lived out in the country where the nights can be pitch dark and the only lights you might see are yellow specks in the distance coming from other farm houses. You get to feeling abandoned by humanity during those dismal winter nights and you start asking yourself "Is anyone really out there?" It plays havoc with your mind.

It was our second winter on our small plot of land and our second summer was coming up when we planned to get really serious about gardening. We had decided a few years earlier to buy the house and the parcel of land out in the country so that our children could be close to nature. A goldfish bowl and a few brightly painted bird houses hanging in our backyard in town might have sufficed. No, we wanted our children to experience chickens and goats and cats and dogs and field mice...and gardens.

So there we were struggling under the curse of this winter spell and showing significant signs that cabin fever indeed had set in when one day what should appear in our mail box but none other than the Burpee Seed Catalogue America's official reminder that spring is coming. You could almost smell April showers on its glossy cover. The catalogue seemed like a gift from heaven. A blessing from above. An answer to prayer. But the devil would be in the details that followed.

With the seed catalogue in hand, it was not long before its vivid colors of red tomatoes, yellow corn, orange carrots and green spinach splashed across our gray world. With each turn of a page, we gradually were lifted up out of our winter gloom and cast into the bright healing light of glorious spring. Enthusiasm took root in us and we began planning and plotting and drawing diagrams of our gardens to be. Yes, that it is not a typo. It is gardens. We ended up that year with three big gardens plus four acres of sweet corn...our cash crop. We needed the money from the cash crop to pay f0r all our gardening.

As I recall we ordered practically everything from A to Z out of that catalogue. Not one vegetable lacked the power to lure us. Not even those we had never heard of before.
"What's a zuk chin ee? " I asked my husband Gene as I studied the photo.

One vegetable that we had never heard of before and knew nothing about was the zucchini. But like all the rest, it, too, seduced us.

"Maybe it's a cucumber. I don't know for sure, but let's order it too." He replied.

"Yes, why not."

That winter we ordered a wide array of vegetable seeds for the spring planting and in considerable amounts. There would be consequences.



  1. SQ,
    What a week we had here! Julie was gone to help her Mom during and after hip-replacement surgery. Then I was helping my daughter with an indoor-outdoor dog run. I'm just now getting caught up.

    This post was certainly worth the wait. It was fun reading about gardening when we still have snow on the ground. Last summer I put in tomatoes on the sunny side of our house. It was not quite a "garden," but the nearest thing to one that I planted in decades.

    "The skies were a constant gray. A chilling mist that makes the bones ache seemed always to be seeping from overhead. You just wanted to hole up inside the house and let cabin fever have its way with you." I know that feeling--got it now!

    I knew you were a small town girl from Illinois but I didn’t know you were a “farmer”—sort of. I think zuk chin ee must have been “invented” in the mid-seventies because I had never heard of it until around then, too. My mom said it was “squash” and I didn’t like squash so it took me years to try it. I really like it now.

    Nicely done. Glad you're back at it. Great beginning. I’m looking forward to more.

  2. Tell Julie I hope her Mom will recover quickly from the hip replacement.

    Yes, we tried our hand at farming on a very small scale and for personal use only except in the case of the sweet corn that year which was our one and only cash crop. My husband worked for the state of Illinois at the time. His office was in a small town about six miles from our country home. Our children are all in the forties now. They cherish their memories of those 7 years living out in the country with all the chickens, goats, and gardens.

    We did not know what a zucchini was when we ordered the seeds back in the 70's. Oh, the catalogue made it clear that it was a squash, but we didn't know much beyond that. We learned though.

  3. Home gardeners have to be especially careful with zucchini. I think it's self propagating or something.

    It's a very good thing that there was no zucchini around at the Sermon on the Mount, because if Jesus had blessed the zucchini then it would have been like The Flood only it would have been zucchini.

  4. Susie what a fun story and I look forward to the next segment. I admire you for raising your children in this environment and what fun it must have been.

    I'm the same way with the Springhill flower catalogue with which I'm now folding corners and dreaming about my summer flowers. ADDICTION with great intentions!

    My sister in Michigan gets cabin fever like you described with the snow and gray skies. She says it can be very depressing.

    How is the grandson doing with his reading? I often think of him and say a little prayer. I'm so excited about hearing from you because you were such a blessing to me and I'm glad you are back!

  5. PAUL: Then you are personally acquainted with zucchini or maybe you've just heard about its reputation. Speaking of floods of zucchini, well I have had firsthand experience with floods of that kind. Thanks for dropping by. I know your blogging time is limited.

    NANCY: You are such a gracious and encouraging person. You could easily become the wind beneath my writer's wings.

    Yes, it was fun for our children living out in the country like we did. Looking back on it all, I have to admit that for me personally it was a lot of work and it was too isolating for me. I believe I am designed to live in town. I got lonely out in the country with no neighbors next door whoI could chat with over the fence. If only I had had a computer and online services way back then, I think I would have not been so lonely.

    You asked about my grandson. You will be glad to learn that he is reading at nearly his grade level now. It finally came together for him. But the wonderful part about his learning to read is that he loves to read now. He loves reading the stories. He is a special young man in the most wonderful ways.

    Thanks for your prayers and for being such an encouragement to me in my writing endeavors. I really appreciate your online friendship.

  6. I think someone planted some Burpee bicycle seeds in my basement. Every time I go down there another one suddenly appears out of nowhere. I just love the fiddle music Susie. I'll be planting a big garden this year. No zucchini thought but plenty of tomatoes, red peppers, Cayenne and jalapeño peppers along with some endive, radish, spinach a salad bowl lettuce. Hi Tom ;-) Back to my cave for now.

  7. I now have been warned. I too am
    looking at the seed catalog, and
    thinking about what to order, but
    to my credit--I am thinking small.
    Small raised beds that is with a
    fence to keep the four-legged "varmints" out. There is hope if I
    only plant inside the beds which
    must be dug by hand. And yes, I
    plan on two zucchini plants.
    Do I recall chickens being part of
    the farm experience? Rural King
    has baby chicks ready to take home.
    I am thinking about a mobile
    chicken coop and two baby chicks.
    Now if I can find someone to build
    it. Fresh eggs and all that good
    fertilizer for the garden!
    I planted the lettuce today. I am
    sure the rabbits will appreciate it. I too had cabin fever today so I barely noticed the cold northeast wind.
    Thankfully........we missed the
    snow over the weekend-----and more
    cabin fever.

  8. JENNI,...Burpee bicycle seeds! Oh, you are so funny. I had to search high and low for that old- fashioned Blue Grass fiddle music. I love it too. If you had not given me such good instructions on how to get music into my blog, I would not have been able to accomplish it. Among your other talents, you are a good teacher. Now don't stay in that cave too long or I'll have to send the dogs out to fetch you.

    SHARON, I've been thinking of you lately. You must have read my mind...again. Are you serious about chickens? You will love having those fresh eggs. Just remember to let them age a few weeks before you boil them in the shell otherwise you will play heck getting the shell off. Are you sure two zucchini plants won't be too much for you and all your family, friends, and neighbors? You're taking a chance from my experience. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. I like that fiddle! The thing about zucchini is they look more like a cuke on steroids.