GENE LOGSDON: Basket-less In the Garden



The Contrary Farmer

Carol ambled in from the garden recently with enough vegetables balanced on her left arm to feed us for a week. A cabbage head, a cauliflower, a swatch of lettuce, four carrots, and a zucchini tucked up under her arm. For some reason we all resist taking a basket to the garden to gather stuff. Or we forget. Or we go there with the intention of bringing back a tomato and end up with eight ears of corn teetering on a forearm. It is the eighth ear that causes the problem. It falls off on the ground. As you grunt your way down to pick it up, ear number seven falls off. You stoop down again for it and six and eight both fall off.

One time-honored way of avoiding a basket is to use your shirt front as a sort of shopping bag to tote produce in from the garden. This works okay except that it renders you one-handed and as you use the other to gather in food, you have no way to swat at mosquitoes and flies. Moreover you end up with a dirty shirt.

A hat balanced in a hand makes a fairly good basket substitute but leaves you even more vulnerable to bug attack with a bare head when the other hand is busily occupied, searching out pea pods or some such. Also if you reach a bit beyond a sturdily balanced stance, a hat full of pea pods or some such tends to cascade into the jungle below and retrieval is almost as time-consuming as picking them in the first place.

The next worst thing to not having a basket of some sort to “gather in the sheaves” so to speak, is to try to harvest stuff while holding a basket in one hand. Most sheaf-gathering goes better using both hands if you want to get done before vespers, supper, or dinner, depending on how you count time. Holding a basket in one hand while picking peas or raspberries is very gauche. You need both hands to do the picking. In the case of raspberries, one hand lifts a cane full of fruit out of the underbrush while the other hand removes the berries and drops them into the basket. With peas you need to hold the vine with one hand so that you don’t tear off immature pods along with the one or two you are after. If you try to do either of these jobs with a basket in the same hand that you are using to lift or steady a vine, you will sooner or later dump the contents already picked onto the ground where the mosquitoes are the thickest. In this kind of sheaf gathering, the veterans of the harvest wars attach the basket or bucket to their belt or to a strap or string hung around the neck, positioning the container handily right at or under the stomach. This leaves both hands free to strip-search the vines.

Working on a ladder to pick tree fruit presents a similar challenge. You are not going to get much done with a basket or bucket in one hand. And if you have both hands free you have a better chance of grabbing a limb should you lose your balance. If you merely set your bucket on the ladder it will invariably end up on the ground. So you hook it to the ladder and then soon find your body extended out so far to get that last plump cherry that you are unable to reach back and drop it in bucket. (Why is it that the best apples or cherries are always just a little out of reach?) The answer is a professional picker’s sack or bucket held with a strap slung over the shoulder. You can make one while recovering from falling off the ladder because you figured you didn’t have time to make one before.

My disinclination to using baskets in the garden is even more pronounced when it comes to gathering the eggs. Since we seldom get more than three or four a day, I insist on believing that I can get them to the house without benefit of an egg basket, using hands and pockets. Not smart. I don’t know how many times I have put two eggs in a pants pocket because I needed both hands for something, forgot the eggs were there, and bent over. Tight pants plus bending over equals uncooked pocket omelet. I see now where you can buy an apron specifically made for gathering eggs but, as a friend says, “if I can’t remember to pick up the egg basket, why would I remember to put on the apron?”