When visions of "harvest" came to mind, I formerly saw mono-cropped, mechanized fields speckled in tons of grass bales or millions of perfectly-same radishes bundled up in cartons. Another ubiquitous definition of harvest included the decorative cornucopia on the dinner table, flanked by 4,000-calorie meals festively placed before family and friends. Harvest was a singular event that happened suddenly and perhaps by the calendar or a shift in weather's degrees.
But apparently I have discovered another type of harvest as an heirloom-plant-plodder. To define a plodding harvest requires the erasure of Thanksgiving feasts and fields of servants working throughout the day and late into the night. Picture a shirt pulled from its waistband and gathered around 15 green beans, a patty pan squash, two warm chicken eggs, four figs in four different sizes and colors, seven collard leaves pulled from the bottom of the stem and three and a half okra (yet again, the "harvester" forgot her scissors in haste to see what had grown through the night). Tenderly, the shirt is lowered to the kitchen counter. The eggs roll until they bump the backsplash, a leaf-hopper wings over to the window, a small hole is discovered on the largest fig, and the collard leaves are examined with deep appreciation for their dense formation and strong color.
This, and variations of this, continue for days and weeks and form into months. Each micro-harvest has its own mini containment area. . .a hen-painted basket for unwashed brown eggs, a stainless colander to wash the greens, a bowl display of squash to be eaten soon, and a freezer bag for figs to be used in banana-fig-cream shakes. Some days there are bits of asparagus, sprigs of herbs for the meats and teas, or a surprise sweet potato that nudged up early from the ground. Bits and bits, bites and bites, day to night is how the plodding harvest moves throughout the season.
Rarely do I know in advance what to prepare for the table, but one thing I do know is that it won't be what it was last night or the night before. The bits of harvest are new and wonderfully fresh. A vegetable harvested from the same plant two weeks prior will not be the same as one harvested this afternoon.
What am I harvesting? Is it merely a crop, or am I gathering strength for the fall garden, hope for the winter garden, vision for the spring garden, and fortitude for the summer? I think that is the definition of a plodding harvest. It is the garden that slowly shares its bounty, uncovers its riches incrementally, and properly rations its rewards. It is the garden that will not be forgotten or dismissed as a one-time event. And this is why I cherish each of my time-tested, backyard-garden heirloom performers. They know how to treat a girl!