Broccoli and Critters
I don’t mind sharing my food with critters traveling through the yard. The birds eat some of the berries. I’ve let the deer have all of the white pattypans at the top of the garden as long as they leave the green ones in the middle for me. It’s when the groundhog decides to take a single bite out of every tomato or gnaws my carrot tops to the ground that I want to be the hunting type.
There’s a give and take to gardening that forces me to look at great spans of time–not just one season. In the past ten years I have harvested so much food from my back yard. I’ve had good tomato years and bad tomato years. Excellent green beans and complete stink bug-demolished plantings. Time needs to be reconsidered for those of us who grow our dinners. I need to harvest what’s coming in now, and it doesn’t matter that the peppers are weeks behind last year’s. They aren’t growing on my schedule. With this alternative understanding of time I’ve also come to comprehend rain levels and humidity highs and lows–frosts and droughts—in a way I never could learn in science class. I’ve learned to look and listen and pick the bad bugs off the plants while leaving the good ones to do their thing.
Last year, when every broccoli plant in the garden was ready to harvest, I thought I would be efficient and just cut one head at a time. I used one wonderful plump bunch of stalks in that night’s dinner. So fresh! So green! Perfect.
The next morning when I walked out to the yard to water, everything blooming and festive as it only gets in late summer, I noticed the groundhog had chomped the rest of the broccoli. Nothing else–just the broccoli. All gone.
I’ve found that critters are quite the connoisseurs. They eat the berries just as they’re gorgeously, exactly ripe. They wait until the kale is luminous and then mow it down. So went last year’s broccoli.
This year I almost made the same mistake. And this year, I must note, the broccoli is gorgeous–a luscious green with firm stalks and not buggy at all. I planted it alongside dill this year, as my companion planting book suggested, and I do think it helped with the little bugs that sometimes nest in the puffy heads. I have six lovely broccoli plants in total.
I neatly cut two heads–what I would need to make the broccoli fritters I wanted to try. I picked some chard, some blackberries and raspberries, and headed inside.
As I chopped and steamed the broccoli, last year’s massacre came to mind. When my husband Rick came in the door from his day of work and asked if he could help in some way, I handed him my harvest basket and the clippers and said–cut all the broccoli you see out there. So, he did, bringing in 4 lovely bunches, which went into the fridge. The next night I would make a tasty broccoli pesto pasta and then eat the leftover pesto with bagel chips for a snack the next few days.
When I wandered into the garden the next morning–putzing around like I do, deadheading marigolds and thinning the kale, adding some mulch to the new round of beets–I noticed a newly dug hole under the fence. A groundhog-sized hole–very neatly done. The kind of hole a foodie groundhog would dig. A pro.
So I sucked in my breath, waiting to discover what had been chomped upon, but I found nothing.
What I imagine is the ground hog timing his dig in order to dine out on the most succulent broccoli—broccoli he’d bragged about to his groundhogs friends back at the bar. I imagine he found all the plants harvested and then cursed me for ruining his big night out. I can see him waddling on home, dejected, eating a bag of discarded Fritos one block over and maybe pulling a microwave dinner from someone’s trash bag.
Me, I made a nice broccoli stir-fry.