Frabjous Times


There were two big success stories in the garden this year, one planned and the other one unplanned. The planned one was the half-dozen tomato seedlings I put into two blocks just around the time the lettuce plants were maturing, ringed around with cages, which kept the two of us in an overabundance of beefsteak tomatoes and cherry tomatoes for months.
The unplanned success story took place in the corner of the yard given over to my two compost heaps, shielded from view by our stockade fence on the outside and some big evergreen shrubs on the inside. These heaps receive our kitchen garbage, the slops from cleaning up after the birds, and assorted yard trash, and get stirred up a couple times a season or (as was the case this summer) less often and take about a year to mellow to flaky black gold soil amendment. In years past I've had huge squash plants sprout from seeds tossed into the compost, but this year the Jerusalem artichokes have taken over with vigor. For a number of years, I've kept a bed on the side of the front yard for these vegetables and have usually come up with a colander-full of crispy roots by November once the foliage has started to die back. Because the spot is shady and not terribly fertile (even despite applications of the black gold), the plants have had a challenging time there, having to fight off sooty mildew of their scratchy leaves, and eventually putting forth just a few flowers in the Fall. When digging up the tubers, there are always enough which miss my fingers to re-establish the bed the next year. Evidently either the seeds from these flower heads or, more likely, a lively bit of root found its way behind the compost heaps last year, because I started to see the familiar leaves and shoots push up in spring as volunteers. What with the busyness of life and all, I just let them alone, only pushing aside the stems when I had to go back to dump another load from our kitchen bin, and using some twine to tether up one particularly fine plant which actually took root outside the fence close to the street.
Now in October, the plants that I was accustomed to seeing top out at about four or five feet have rocketed up to something like twice that, and are now capped by orange and brown flowers which out Black-Eyed Susan the Black-Eyed Susans we have. The hairy stems on these plants look like fresh bamboo as thick as my finger, and I can now only guess at what kind of growth there is beneath the ground. Before the flowers came along, I was considering whether the neighbors in our suburb might not have liked the weedy look of the foliage, but now I'm thinking they might be imagining that we'd planned the orange display to coincide with the festive season, and I'm not going to tell anyone otherwise.
Clearly here are some plants which just adore having garbage ladled at them, aren't picky about whether the stuff has broken down at all first, and also like standing up where the sun can shine down on them. Plus, when they're all done, there is something tasty to harvest (though considering their venue, I don't think I'll want to be eating them raw in salads).
Originally published: 2003/10/08 20:57:50