Gratis grapes

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AS the growing season begins its annual slowdown, many a neophyte backyard gardener has renewed respect for the American farmer. Growing food isn't as easy as it's cracked up to be, books and experts notwithstanding. One fellow we know is especially respectful. A summer's assiduous tending of his 20-by-20-foot plot has yielded a total harvest of four heads of lettuce, three tomatoes, and two wispy squash.

And the lettuce, while tasty, was a tad expensive. What with the cost of potting soil, containers necessary to neutralize predatory rabbits, and one thing or another, each head cost $8.33.

Still, count his personal growing season not lost -- thanks to procrastination. Yesterday he finally got around to approaching the back fence, loppers in hand, to trim the runaway vines that had been encroaching all summer from next door's woodlot. And found, hanging from them, several dozen bunches of berries, slowly turning from green to purple. Those ``weedy'' vines are two weeks away from bearing, gratis, a huge crop of succulent concord grapes.

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