August 21, 2019

She Spreads She Sheds Along the South Shore

The She Shed as installed at the
Marshfield Fair.  Double-click for
a full-screen slideshow.
I’ve written several times about the venerable Marshfield Fair.  It’s a wonderful anachronism; a local fair that seamlessly combines agriculture with a midway and farm animals.  It ought not to exist in the 21st Century and, indeed, most such fairs disappeared long ago.  But those which survive adapt with the times to attract new generations of families.
I live fifty miles from Marshfield, which is on what is called the ‘South Shore’ of Massachusetts, yet every August my life seems to come to a grinding halt because of the fair.  Once upon a time, it was to transport flowers for Betty’s entry in the standard flower show held there each year.  Then, it became themed mantels.  That was followed by helping create conservation or ecology exhibits to explain things like the perils of black swallowwort or the need to encourage using native plants.
The 2018 entry, 'Grandma's Cottage'
Last year, Roni Lehage, who runs all ‘horticulture’ for the fair, roped us in big time.  She asked if we would create what is called a ‘vignette’ – a three-dimensional, full-size display based on a theme.  I had never noticed the vignettes before; perhaps I never got to that part of the Horticulture Building.  The 2018 theme was,‘The Front Porch’.  Betty and I created an entry called ‘Grandma’s Seaside Cottage’ which visually told a story of a young girl’s afternoon on the aforementioned porch.  To goose its verisimilitude, I created and painted a four-foot-by-six-foot scenery flat which was a very good replica of a part of that cottage’s exterior.  We blew away the competition.
It all starts with lumber and props
We also blew away much of the month of August.  Creating and painting the panel was an educational.  We weren’t just creating a clapboard house exterior; it has to have shadows to create that three-dimensional feel – and late afternoon shadows at that.  Plus, everything needed to be transported in a Prius and assembled on site.  When it was over, we agreed our one year created a lifetime of laurels on which to rest.
Last month, Roni called again: the 2019 theme was ‘He Shed/She Shed’ (get it?).  She had the ‘He Shed’ but there was no feminine equivalent.  This was especially heartbreaking because She Sheds were becoming a ‘thing’ – there is even a very funny television commercial on the subject.  Could we come out of retirement to ensure the ‘boys’ (actually, two women) had some competition?  OK, we agreed to enter.
Fabric on the panels.  We had ample
props... for a 4'x6' space
For 2019, the rear height dimension increased from four feet to six feet.  The depth remained four feet and the width six feet.  It was right there in the Horticulture Entry Manual, and I even sent Roni a sketch to make certain we were within spec. 
We went to work.  We built three panels – a back one six feet by six feet, and two side panels, each four feet on a side.  While created from nothing but 1”x3” rough framing strips covered with muslin cloth, we wanted to be able to add things like shelves and a window.  So, supports were added wherever these elements would be placed (have I mentioned we know nothing about carpentry?).  The flats were created, primed, and painted a pleasing yellow.  It was time to visit The Swap.
The Swap - everything we needed!
Medfield has a town Transfer Station.  Almost everyone in town takes their carefully-sorted yard debris, garbage, and recyclables there.  Five years ago, someone noticed an appalling number of useful things were being thrown in with garbage destined to be incinerated to create electricity.  Thus was born The Swap which, in 2019 is a spectacular, volunteer-driven paean to the virtue of recycling no-longer-needed consumer goods. 
Need art? Furniture? It's at The Swap
Over three visits, Betty spotted and collected a feminine-looking desk, a nice chair, two large wine glasses with flowers painted on them, three colonial-themed shelves, a small window with frame and glass intact, picture frames, gardening books, and other bric-a-brac that might be useful.  The window frame was an especially good find; we managed to coax it out of the hands of a young woman who wanted it for a craft project by promising her she would get it back after the fair’s run.
The view out the shed window
(that's part of our garden!)
All these items plus five of our best-looking gardening containers were assembled in our basement – after making certain we could get the six-by-six frame up the stairs.  I took dozens of photos of our garden to find the right one to be blown up to poster size to be the ‘view’ out the window. some items, such as the chair, were painted to create a visual theme. At the last minute I added a ‘shadow’ to the side panels to assure the viewer this was the inside of a shed and not a suite at the Four Seasons.
On the appointed morning we transported everything to Marshfield.  We cajoled a friend with a truck to take the three wall panels and desk.  We got there, expecting to assemble everything in an hour – 90 minutes tops. 
We started by attaching the window to the six-by-six panel and hoisting the scenery flat into its place at the back of the exhibit space… and discovered the flat didn’t fit.  The space was eight feet wide – and five-and-a-half-feet high.  We had been given incorrect dimensions.  Oops.
A gardener always admits 
the truth to herself - one 
of the shed's illustrations
So, we commandeered tools, un-tacked the fabric, took apart the back panel, shortened it to the allotted height (no small feat) and re-stretched the fabric.  Betty opened the side walls to fill the eight-foot width.  We brought in our car-load of props – all designed to fill 24 square feet (or 144 cubic feet) of space.  Except we had 32 square feet (200 cubic feet) of space to fill.  After four hours of work it looked… empty.  Chic, feminine, and spare.  Betty returned to Marshfield the next morning with four large containers, but there was no ignoring the contrast between our whimsical ‘space of her own’ and the overstuffed tribute to veterans that occupied the adjoining ‘he shed’.
We got the Red – second place. 
Yet, I’m damned proud of that shed (on view through August 25).  It is everything we set out to illustrate: a space where a woman can make gardening plans with the comfort of books, wine, a pet, aphorisms – and a marvelous view of her own garden. 

August 16, 2019

A Groaning Glut of Green Beans

In our 600-square-foot vegetable garden this year we are growing corn, lettuce, chard, dill, carrots, summer squash, winter squash, eight varieties of tomatoes, fennel, cucumbers, peppers, basil, leeks, beets, spinach, amaranth…. and green beans.
The summer zucchini explosion can
be easily addressed by leaving them
on your neighbors' doorsteps
I have no argument with the first 16 items on the list. There is nothing as flavorful as sweet corn eaten minutes after it was picked or a salad topped with tomatoes still warm from the vine. These are the reasons we garden. Even when there is excess (think zucchini), there are neighbors with whom to share the bounty.  And, if your friends begin avoiding you because they know you come bearing suitcases full of the stuff, you can dispose of the surplus on National Sneak Zucchini on Your Neighbors’ Porch Night (which fell on August 8th this year).
Zucchini, though, is a vegetable that must be eaten fresh. No one would ever think of canning or freezing summer squash, because they’d find nothing but mush when they sampled it in January. Not so green beans. Green beans effectively have the same taste and texture whether they’re eaten fresh or frozen.
One of our two wide rows of beans
For reasons known only to her, this year Betty planted two ‘wide rows’ of green beans with the idea we would freeze what we didn’t immediately eat.  To add color to the garden, one of those plots is planted with a bean that is picked when purple, though it disappointingly reverts to green when cooked.  We picked out first green bean in mid-July and are now picking upwards of a pound of beans from of the garden every other day.
This variety of beans is purple... alas,
it turns green when cooked.
The first week was wonderful. The yield was maybe 20 or 30 long, luscious beans a day, perhaps ten minutes worth of picking in the cool, late afternoon. Once home, we pinched off the ends, threw them in a dish, steamed them for three minutes and we had fresh, delicious green beans; high in vitamins and good for us to boot.
Then the yield bounced up to about 60 green beans a day. Fifteen minutes of picking and ten minutes of snipping ends. OK, we cooked half and froze half (two minutes in boiling water, then rinse under cold water to stop the cooking, arrange the beans on a tray, stick them in the freezer for an hour, then bag them and return them to the freezer until needed). I could cope with that.  One reason is that, in earlier years, our green bean season could last as little as two weeks.  Mexican bean beetles would discover the garden and begin chomping on everything in sight.  We would come out one morning and find leaves reduced to skeletons and the beans are half-eaten by voracious beetles.  
I am doomed to pick beans until
well into September
Then, Betty discovered the virtue of floating row covers.  From planting until picking time, the plants were swathed in white tents that thwarted even the most vigilant bugs.  The beans, which are self-pollinating, thrive under the row covers.  Worse, this year, the second plot is about to come into full production.
Now, we are spending half an hour every other day stooped over picking under a blazing sun with suffocating August humidity, pinching ends for another 45 minutes, and then lining up green beans on trays for half an hour. First, it was one double-decked tray of beans to blanch and freeze and then two double-decked trays. Did I mention we still have green beans from last summer?
Dealing with the excess will require a plan I have not yet devised.  Before we moved, we lived next door to a family of vegetarians that gladly took our excess.  Our local Food Cupboard also takes fresh vegetables on the day of their distribution, but there’s only one in August .  Unless I can come up with something, I’m doomed to eat green beans with every meal, and I do not look forward to a green bean omelet.
If only I could stop them...
There is joy in seeing plants first emerging from the ground in May and flourish in June. Alas, the mind does not contemplate the work that will be involved when, as in the ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, the green beans keep maturing by the hundreds every day, demanding to be picked. The great gardening guru Roger Swain calls one of the joys of summer the ‘wretched excess’ from the garden. This August, being a grower of green beans makes it easy to understand the ‘wretched’ part of that statement.