Basket-less In the Garden



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?”



To all you respondents, I so much enjoy your comments. You are increasing the joy in my life immeasurably. What good laughs and good penetrating thoughts. I agree with dancinghairwoman—” I feel like we are old friends, kindred spirits.” Gene Logsdon

P.S. that egg apron is the silliest thing I’ve ever seen!

ooooohhhh….yes, yes and yes! I have long been a fan of aprons. I get teased a lot by my family and friends. When they knock on the door, there I am in my apron. I put it on in the morning and take it off at night just before shutting the house down for a nice sleep.
For summer I wear an apron with many “gathers”…that is, it’s fuller and makes a bigger lap in which to store fruit, vegetables, eggs or whatever I have need to carry that my arms and hands can’t manage. A few times while unloading I have found dropped an egg on the floor. It gets “hidden” in there somewhere and when I let go the ends the dogs get fresh egg. They don’t seem to mind and I’ve resigned myself to losing a few.
I like the idea of an old mailbox. I’m going to put one of those out. I’ve tried leaving a few small tools and other things on a rock or chunk of wood but they never seem to be there when I get back, must be the wind. And I like the idea of an old table too. I actually have an old metal sink and cupboard with a hose stationed close by. That comes in handy.
As always I enjoyed this post. I feel like we are old friends, kindred spirits. I always read all the comments as well. I’ve gleaned many a good idea from you folks.

I’ve always had a vision of me dressed in a flowing white dress and big straw hat picking vegetables into my handcrafted basket. The reality, of course, is a tubby senior citizen in paint-spattered jeans and t-shirt with a plastic bag…when I remember the bag, that is.

I plead guilty to the hopeless juggling of hand/shirt toting, usually triggered when I run out “just to water the greenhouse while it’s cool”. Seeing so many perfect vine-ripe tomatoes that might just be a tad over-ripe if I don’t remember to get them tomorrow always leads to the mess at the back door.

I suppose I have not be afflicted with basket amnesia. I use a large stainless steel pan about 20 inches in diameter. It works great. My late mother gave it to us. I would not trade it for anything in the world.

Great post Gene.

Guilty of all of the above; so I have gone to Gene’s suggestion of basket hung from clothes instead of tomato and egg omelet in shirt front and/or pockets. Only problem is : I need to see in front of me clearly while walking back to the house with my bounty. Unfortunately, there is something about the combination of wearing bifocals while looking down directly in front of me and my sense of balance or lack thereof that somehow confuses the basket on my waist with the ground or else a big garden gremlin with a sick sense of humor trips me which means that I still end up on the ground more times than I care to remember with eggs and produce strewn on the ground around me. Well — ground is a nice word considering the whole place is well fertilized with animal exudates. Nevertheless, I pick up the salvageable portion of my garden and poultry fruits (eggs for you newbies to country life) and very carefully take them the rest of the way to the kitchen. We”ve eaten many meals of food which was spilled en route and we somehow are still alive. If I’m serving guests I usually point out how fresh the food is. They’re only told about the pocket omelets or produce seasoned with barnyard essence on a : need to know basis”. So far no one has really needed to know.

Thank you Gene for making me realize I’m not the only garden klutz..

Gene, I think the solution to the how to get the harvest to the table is to put the table in the garden. An old gas grill for heat and voila!! The localest eatin’ possible. Heck, a pop-up with mosquito mesh and an old Army cot and you wouldn’t even have to spend any time in the house. (For zucchini, nothing short of a one yard front end loader will do at this point.)

It has been a while since we have had a pocket omelet. Too many birds. But the memory of cracking one in the vest pocket still makes me cringe. And the way pants change sizes on us is way too cruel.

Just back from PSU’s Ag Progress Days. There are things for small farmers and homesteaders if a person looks hard enough. Did hear from some Dept of Ag folks that the largest contributor to the nutrient problem in the Chesapeake is suburban lawns. Too many homeowners spreading way too much N, K, and P.

Ha! I’ve made pocket omelets more times than I care to remember. I guess I’m a slow learner. I just keep thinking, “these pants aren’t as tight as that other set”.

Hey, Betty, that’s one of the best reasons to live out in the boonies — no close neighbors to see you running around in your skivvies! My dad once had to make a mad dash to the house even then. He’d gone out to move the sprinkler in his Fruit of the Looms and an early morning visitor came driving in to the house. I’m guilty of all the sins Gene mentions, plus one more. We do the evening chores on 4-wheelers as we pull a small trailer to feed the cows. I have saddlebags on mine, so my tendency is to cache the eggs in the saddlebags when I shut up the chickens. I sometimes forget they’re there and squeeze my knee on the bag (too many years of riding a horse — I still use knee pressure to turn the 4-wheeler). Yep — scrambled eggs en saddlebag!

I almost always forget to take something with me to gather eggs and end up gathering them in my front shirt tail–good thing I live in the outback and no one has to see the aged belly exposed by this procedure! Well last night beat all. I went out to close up the chicken coops. The main henhouse was easy–the girls were all abed and I just closed the door. But the 2-month-old in-betweeners were another story. They haven’t figured things out quite yet. Some of them were huddled up inside the temporary coop and some were huddled up outside of it. I knew if I just started trying to pluck them up and put them in the coop, they would scatter. So I slipped off my long skirt, threw it over them, and easily untangled them from the skirt and tossed them in the coop–lives saved! Walking back up to the house, skirt in hand, was not a sight any of you all would wish to see!

“I needed both hands for something, forgot the eggs were there, and bent over. Tight pants plus bending over equals uncooked pocket omelet”

HA! Been there, done that. The feeling of raw egg running down your thigh is… unnerving.

Marsha- Queen of Buzzard's Glory August 19, 2015 at 10:55 am

Oh, darn, you’ve covered most of my solutions! grin….. I have a rough table down at the garden and I have an old BIG mailbox (the kind you some saddles on in the barn and put the tack inside), and a smaller one for small tools sitting on the table. I keep those pesky plastic Wallyworld bags in there in a wad, and a couple ancient cracky edge plastic buckets under the table. When I take my “world tour” of the garden and, like your lovely partner Carol, I begin to load up… voila. I put my bounty in the bag or bags if I want to keep the lovage separate from the tomatoes or beans. I do have a handy dandy apron I made just for the garden (I love that egg apron)… it’s filthy dirty of course, but I put a weed digger, a knife, and all manner of stuff and I even can carry things I want OUT of the garden that I find like an old plant marker back in the house. Anyway, keep up the great work. I have a 5 gal bucket with a ‘toity’ lid we put the “yellow stuff’ in and put it on my high-ridge clay garden…. can’t tell a neigbor when they comment on the beauty of the plants. I fear the will start a lynch mob! heeeee. All the best, Marsha, Buzzard Queen.

Maybe we forget to take the basket because, if we did, we would bring in a harvest that would require processing. I spent many a summer watching General Hospital while I helped mom process bushel baskets of peas, green beans or corn. If it’s only a handful, then we can rationalize that “it’s only enough for supper.”

Guilty! Less than an hour ago I did this very thing. Commenting out loud to the dogs that It was ridiculous to not remember a basket as I walked back to the house with a pocketful of green beans and a shirt front bulging from paste tomatoes. Then I made a second trip sans basket to pick cherry tomatoes. Obviously, I’ll never learn.

How did she ever find lettuce at the same time as cabbage and zucchini?

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