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"Spades" wrote Robert Frost, "take up leaves no better than spoons."

Let me add that rakes aren't much of an improvement. Peter would have had me believe that leaf management could be had for a modest investment in technology. My husband was ever hopeful a tractor, complete with bucket loader and lawn maintenance attachments, would find its way into the garage. Leaf removal was just one of the many tasks a tractor would simplify. Or so he told me.

Now that he has a tractor, has, in fact, his second tractor, the first being "too small" even he would have to admit the addition of a tractor to his arsenal of impliments has done little to aid in the removal of leaves. Leaves do not lend themselves to loading by bucket loader. Leaves must be raked, and that is the truth of it.

"I make a great noise of rustling all day" continues Frost, "like rabbit and deer running away!"

Those same rabbit and deer who insure the only crop we grow to a bonanza harvest will be leaves. By the middle of July I've coddled broccoli to decent size, and the peas are beginning to flower. By the end of July I have neat rows of little nubs.

In mid-August, the deer have found their way into the blueberries, and by September they are stripping apples off the trees. Even my dogs get into the act, squeezing their eyes shut and wrinkling back their noses against the thorns, they harvest blackberries from the lower canes faster than I can pick them from the upper ones.

My husband is convinced that when God gave man dominion over the beasts, this was a reference to internal combustion, and specifically implements of garden construction. I on the other hand, am convinced there is an inverse relationship between garden investment, and actual produce obtained.

The greater the investment in hardware, the less produce one is likely to see. The blackberries my canine companions have become so adept at stealing, grow wild in the fields. They exist in such profusion we mow them down every year, and still have enough to fill the freezer. An apple tree planted 50 years ago yields fruit for two households plus the deer.

But the vegetable garden, wich requires a tiller, soil amendments, a shelf of reference books and hours of time? It will yield endless zucchini, three bell peppers, a handful of basil, six ripe tomatoes, a peck of potatoes, and a row of tiny carrots. Roughly $20 worth of produce.

There was a time, when I had more time, of building compost piles, using fabric row covers, and extending the season with cold frames. Frank Bryan wrote that "real Vermonters suspect that French Intensive Gardening is probably immoral," and I've come to agree. Real vegetables survive weeds, frost, and bugs. Real vegetables are probably not hybrids with delicate flavors in gourmet colors.

Consider this: in the 1890's, on my hill, four families grew all they needed to survive without internal combustion or a yard of reference materials. Either my ancestors ate very, very little, or there is some gardening secret that lies with them as they rest in our rocky soil.

Perhaps it was the chickens. Our chicken by-product has gone a long way to rejuvenating our soil, and hungry chickens keep the beetles at bay. Before I invest in another gas-powered guarantee, I'm thinking we might build a bigger chicken coop.

Until then, we all need the satisfaction of harvesting something--anything--we've grown ourselves. So its another fall of harvesting leaves. Frost reaped too, even as he wondered, when all the leaves were heaped together, what did he really have?

"Next to nothing for weight and since they grew duller
From contact with earth next to nothing for color.
But a crop is a crop and who is to say when the harvest shall stop?"

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Stories From a Vermont Life:

Camilla Blue
Frozen Gifts
Making Wreaths
Shearing
Hobblewood
Flush
The Fourth of July
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The Farm at Morrison Corner raises Icelandic Sheep on the last hill farm in Mansfield, VT.  Learn about Raising Icelandic Sheep, Raising Chickens, Moving to Vermont and Living in Vermont on this and our other sites.

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