The veggie threat

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There were twenty packets of them, including seeds for tomato plants, lettuce , radishes, corn, beans, cucumbers, watermelon, onions, zucchini, pumpkin, and - for some reason - asters. They had been a Mother's Day gift from her teen-age son, who, being unschooled in such matters, could hardly have known that she'd need at least forty acres and a mule to handle the load.

But, not wanting to hurt his young feelings, she decided to make an effort. With good intentions and considerable skepticism, she dug up the narrow bed bordering the side of the house, worked in some peat moss, spread some fertilizer, and opened a few of the packets.

Following the directions on one envelope, she made hills of five to six pumpkin seeds at intervals considerably less than that suggested by all reputable guidelines and then spread the lettuce in a row one-tenth the length of the green stuff's recommended allowance for growing space. Behind the lettuce and pumpkin, she planted a few hills of corn kernels and threw in some beans here and there. In late spring with the ground freshly cleared of tulip bulbs, there had seemed enough space.

Recommended: 22 summer salads

With a bit more determination and optimism, she dug holes in the back for the zucchini, planted more corn and pumpkin, and added some parsley, chives, and dill. After a few days of sunshine and regular sprinklings from the garden hose and sky, tiny blades started poking through the ground. Well, I'll be, she thought. Corn looks just like grass when it starts out.

The pumpkin seeds did their thing next and within a couple of weeks there were dozens of seedlings lining the fence and peeking out around her perennials and recently planted annuals.

How nice. Everything seemed to be sprouting.

But a mild sense of uneasiness was creeping over her. Would she be able to handle the plants as they grew larger? How much larger? Weren't seedlings supposed to have a high mortality rate? They couldn't allm survive. There wasn't enough room. Looking on the brighter side - hers, not the plants' - she remembered the creatures that had found paradise in her backyard and considered laying off the bug sprays and snail pellets for a while.

But that would be cruel and unjust punishment, she decided in an afterthought. If It's Worth Doing, It's Worth Doing Well! Or so she was reminded every morning by the maxim on her husband's shaving mug.

Just thin them out, she compromised. Give them a little breathing space. Didn't they deserve a chance to be all that they could be? (What mug had she seen that on?) And so thinking, she cleared more ground. Between the Canterbury bells that were almost done blooming. Along the back wall of the house (where very little survived). And around the poppies that had dropped their petals weeks ago. (Nothing seemed to last arond the poppies.)

But by late June, she could tell there was going to be trouble. Perhaps she should have used the superfine, extra-rich cow manure more sparingly. She stared in disbelief at tomato plants that were five feet tall and still growing. They would probably produce gigantic mutations. Melon-size fruit, with one tomato supplying enough sauce for an oversize pizza.

The corn, which should have been knee-high by the Fourth of July, was up to her shoulders at the end of June. The zucchini had taken over the beds in the back, crowding out most of the bush beans. At the side of the house, bean stalks had wound around a single rose bush that had always enjoyed a solitary existence.

New, discomforting thoughts. What if everything ripened at the same time? No, she recalled. Corn took forever. Tomatoes, only half as long. And beans? Well, beans were a snap.

But then there were the pumpkins.

A potential crisis was developing in the driveway. By mid-July the prickly pumpkin vines had crawled over the brickwork that lined the flower beds and were headed for distant places. In the back they threatened to climb the spruce trees that formed a wall fifteen feet high.

She spent the early morning hours pushing the ropelike vines, urging them to stay off the blacktop. But even so, the tendrils lapped at the iris, wound around the garden hose, and tugged at her ankles.

During the waning days of summer, she could be seen hurrying from bush to vine to stalk - moving green tentacles off the driveway, hunting under umbrellalike leaves for produce, lifting meandering vines off the lawn and back onto supportive cages. Ceaselessly she shoved, staked, picked, and fought off the accelerating veggie threat.

Family members recall seeing her briefly in the house some weeks ago. She was reportedly found stuffing a shaving mug behind some dental floss while muttering vaguely about commitment, determination, and achievement.

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