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Food + Cooking

Extreme Frugality:
The Way of the Carters

Fighting the good fight and holding back the slugs.
late blight

Ahhh, the life of the frugal subsistence gardener. Wake at the break of day—not by alarm clock but from an internal synchronicity with nature or perhaps the crow of a rooster. The early, ethereal rays of sunshine don’t just light a path to the lower vegetable plot but dance beside you, leaping and bouncing from dew drop to dew drop. You are one with the soil, and fear not the bank statement. That’s the way it is for some of our fellow frugalistas. I know it is. But it’s definitely not the Way of the Carters.

“Mom! Dad!” Anabel screamed from her upstairs bedroom Tuesday morning. “There’s something gross all over my room! Help!” And then a few seconds later: “Something’s definitely wrong with the kitten!”

Punctuating her screams was a repeated, “Tap! Tap! Tap!” originating from somewhere between her and me.*

I would’ve gone to help Anabel clean up the mess but at that same moment, Lisa came bursting into the house, a basket of eggs swinging from her wrist. “Hodding. We’ve got to do something about the tomatoes. They’re dying. The blight is back!”

“You’re on your own, big girl,” I called up to Anabel. Blight trumps scat any day. “Don’t forget to wash your hands.”

This summer has been the wettest summer on record since 1914. I’m not sure what happens to most vegetable gardens in Seattle, but here in New England, our peppers, corn, tomatoes, and basil don’t take kindly to non-stop Wet Willies. The 67 tomato plants (plus another dozen of varying strains that Lisa got on sale) that I nurtured from seeds and carried in and out of the house all spring long to soak up sun in the day and stay warm at night are under attack. Their leaves get brown spots, turn yellow, and finally wither away, taking entire branches with them. According to the news, a certain Alabama nursery sent out seedlings infected with “late blight” to big-box stores all over the northeast. Evidently, one or more of the 12 plants Lisa purchased delivered what’s taking us down—along with my fellow Gourmet writer, Nanette Maxim. Even if Lisa hadn’t bought one of these infected plants, we probably would’ve gotten the blight anyway, since the fungus can travel two to three miles by air.

Forgetting the sick cat in Anabel’s room for the moment, I dashed outside, scissors and plastic bag as my weapons, and began snipping midstride. The blight…mustdie! I will not lose my precious babies to a mere fungus. Those aphids earlier on were one thing, but a fungus? No way! (This was before I learned I’m supposed to pull up the entire plant and dispose of them in sealed plastic bags. Ahhggg! Guess we won’t be canning tomatoes after all, and we’ve started spraying the potatoes since “late blight” is what caused the infamous Irish potato famine.)

“Mom! Mom! Mom! Dad!” Angus suddenly started screaming. I figured he needed a boost on his hand-me-down bike that’s just a little too tall for him so I kept my head down to let Lisa handle this one; it wasn’t an emergency. “The chickens are loose!”

I dropped the scissors and quickly herded the escapees back into the pen, immediately cursing that I was wearing a bright red shirt. Snowflake doesn’t like red. He flew at my chest, pecking and scratching even before landing.

Stumbling backwards out the door, I squashed an egg mid-retreat. When will Stella learn to lay her eggs in the nesting boxes like all 18 of her sisters?

Almost back to the besieged tomatoes, I wondered when things had gotten so crazy and if it was okay to drink mead so early in the morning? My rationalization being that the mead had only been fermenting for a month (I tossed out the first batch that would’ve been a couple months old by now, because it tasted like burnt vinegar) and was therefore fairly weak. Lisa called from the lower garden: “There’re slugs everywhere! All over the potatoes! What should I do? Get some beer?”

Slugs, like thirsty frat boys, will crawl into Bud-filled containers and die what I assume is a very happy death.

“Smash them!” I scream back. “Kill them, now! We have not yet begun to fight!”

*The tapping from upstairs and the mess in Anabel’s room had a single source: an escaped 6-week-old chick that had evidently sneaked inside. Since we’d been away visiting family the previous night, it’d actually been home alone for 24 hours. Although I’m still not sure how it got from the closed garage to the inside of our house, I was finally prompted to move the chicks outside. They’re now living under an overturned (ruined) dinghy inside our trash trailer. They can’t be directly integrated with our existing flock or the older hens will literally tear them apart. We know this because our friends tried such a thing and now have a few less chicks. We’re supposed to move them into the elder hens’ house one at a time, at night when the old ladies are roosting. Supposedly, when the old hens wake up in the morning, they don’t realize the new, young hen doesn’t belong. I want to write “I wonder if the same thing would work with wives?” but know I can’t because not everyone would know I’m not doing it to offend but simply because I had to. It’s like dropping spit from a bridge or from up in a tree. You just got to do it. Right?

Frugal Tip of the Week
Don’t waste your money on shaving cream. Simply lather your hands or washcloth with a favorite soap and then add a dollop of body lotion. Not only does it save money, but your skin will be less irritated—and you’ll know exactly what’s in your shaving potion. I even think I get a closer shave this way, too.