First Harvest Reflections

The feast of the First Harvest is a feast of little bits. The garden is full of promise, but not full of ripe produce. We have some zucchini, an eggplant, maybe even a tomato, but hardly enough of anything to make a meal, but together, with a handful of herbs, couple eggs from the hens and some cheese from the farmer’s market, they make a passable vegetable lasagna. A few other odds and ends, six green beans and a carrot, with some scraps from the lasagna noodles and we’ve got a hearty soup. Slice up some of those cucumbers with that tomato and sprinkle with salt and herbs, maybe a bit of feta cheese and we’ve got a salad. And it was good.

There was bread, of course. There is always bread. But we do not grow wheat so wheat is not part of the first harvest at our house. (Yet! I have seeds and I have prepared a space and we’ll be planting winter wheat for the first time this year! I do not know that it will be part of the First Harvest next year, that depends on when the wheat. It will let us know.) Baking bread is a First Harvest or Lammas tradition in many households, but we bake bread all the time, so it’s just not special here. What is special is that one pepper on the pepper plant that I’ve been fussing over since I started it in my kitchen window back in March.

Before I moved out to my little homestead and began gardening in earnest, I used to gather for the First Harvest with friends and we had a Stone Soup tradition for the celebration. Everyone brought a little something to go into the pot. And we told the story, of course. But the message was slightly different. It was about sharing and being generous with one another to ensure the entire community benefitted.

Now that I’m gardening and having a quiet celebration at home with the family the message is slightly different. Many small and things, so small as to be insignificant, not worth much at all, combine together to make something wonderful. The First Harvest is small, though it has the promise of something bigger- that one ripe tomato is surrounded by green brethren, weighing down the branches. Elsewhere in the garden, massive green squashes rest beneath an umbrella canopy of leaves and potatoes grow plump beneath the soil. The first harvest is not one of abundance, but oh what a treat. It is the opposing equivalent of a few tiny pebbles falling down the hillside ahead of an avalanche of food goodness. By the Second Harvest, we’re going to be buried in produce and trying to figure out how to preserve it all before it goes bad, but right now we’re scraping together something useful from a few representative offerings.

There are things I don’t eat out of season. Eggplant simply doesn’t exist in my world from November through July. We only eat canned tomatoes out of season because store bought fresh tomatoes simply do not taste like tomatoes- so what’s the point? By the First Harvest we are practically salivating at the garden gate for these treats we only get this time of year. Like racehorses at the gate, ready to start the season. And it will be a race to get it all canned and dried and frozen and otherwise stored before it starts to spoil. There is anticipation, a bit of excitement, and melancholy for a summer going by too fast.

But for now, there is no urgency. We can just enjoy the fruits of the season and leisurely pace. The winter garden is in- we can’t celebrate till this is done, so we know that our greens will be at their sweetest in the cool autumn and some of our brassicas will even be there resting beneath the snow to keep us fed well into winter. The autumn rush has not yet begun. We rest now and we share what little has ripened with each other and with the land.

Inspired by the book Braiding Sweetgrass (I highly recommend it) I have been thinking a lot lately about giving back to the land and the honorable harvest. And I felt a bit guilty about eating this first fruit in our excitement. We always leave an offering of the first eggs in the spring and we’ve offered the first fruit in the past, but this year is really the first year that our diets have been so garden-focused. In past years, our garden was just a supplement. Now it’s our primary source of food, along with our livestock, supplemented by the grocery store and farmers markets. It’s easy, isn’t it, to share the stuff you’ve gathered for fun.

But there were a few things we’ve done this year that honored the harvest. Our wild berry harvest lasted three days. After three days, what was left belonged to our wild siblings. Our birds took some of them all along too, of course. After gathering berries and making jam from them, we shared the jars with family and friends. The berries were a gift of the wild, and gifts are meant to be shared.

We also work hard to nourish and restore the land. I have seen the results of it, not just in the abundance of the garden. I see monarch butterflies every week now. We saw two all year last year, and none in our first and second years there. The yard no longer smells of milkweed blossoms, which smell magnificent, by the way. People talk of the scent of lilacs and roses and violets and lily of the valley, nobody ever talks about the fragrance of milkweed, but it is lovely. Our lawn shrinks, the butterflies come, the fireflies light up the night. We’ve even seen new species of birds we’ve never had before, grosbeaks and barn swallows, and the deer, while occasionally snacking from the poultry feeder as if she were one of ours, has thus far been kind enough to leave our garden alone.

The land knows we love it. And I think it loves us back.

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