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It’s time to harvest the vegetables

The zucchini are exploding. New blossoms blaze into flame. It’s a garden inferno. Who you gonna call?

(Hello, mom? An unharvested cucumber has turned into a dangerous spiked club.)

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It’s like what the fire chief said during those elementary school visits: stop, drop, roll.

You stop reading that novel or romping with the black Lab. You drop whatever you are doing that has nothing to do with agriculture. You roll with the vegetable punches of August.

If you don’t pick that glut of green beans right now, the pods will grow to resemble a species from some horror movie. Collect, steam, freeze, repeat.

August means you must be on high alert--for ripening tomatoes. Harvest them at their peak or you are a lesser human being, not to be trusted with young life. To keep up, you eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks.

Still, they come. Your counters are lacquered in blood red. You’re up to your eyeballs in salsa, sauce, bru-schetta. Make this stuff now, or the vegetables begin to soften and rot. And you die, just a little bit, to see that.

What about all that bok choy and tatsoi bursting forth from the soil? Pick, stir-fry, consume. Otherwise they are tough and you are toast. Blame Asia for drawing you to these greens and making your life a little more unhinged.

The farmers’ market, tempting before, is now a veritable den of desire. You can’t resist a couple of heads of cauliflower. You get home to find there’s no more room in the refrigerator after Tuesday’s CSA haul.

Those smothering mounds of corn husks from late summer barbecues? Get them in the compost bin right away, or they’ll blow across the neighbor’s lawn.

Take a break from the veggie barrage and hit the beach? Not a chance. August is the time to whirl that excess basil into pesto. Time to set fresh oregano, rosemary, and dill out to dry or freeze in ice-cube trays with olive oil. Drape the rafters with garlic bulbs. Sterilize the jars and turn the blueberries into jam. If you don’t get the cabbage fermenting, you are not living up to your responsibilities. Chop onions and weep.

It’s relentless pressure when the flood comes and vegetables seem to fall from the sky like the rains of April. You have to deal.

But soon comes late September, when all you have to worry about are the butternut, acorn, and delicata squashes. They can sit and ripen on the counter for weeks. No sirens, no taunts, no guilt. You are able to sit back and wait until it’s time to take out the chef’s knife and give them a good whacking.

Fall turns out to be cathartic that way. It’s your chance to take out all that frustration about summer’s blessed vegetable emergencies.

Of course you could choose not to have a garden or farm share in the first place. But then think of all the ultra-fresh, extra-delicious produce you would miss. Ponder all the pesto, tomato sauce, steamed kale, and sliced organic strawberries that fill your freezer in autumn and get you through a good part of the winter. You wouldn’t have these gems to thaw and enjoy, reminders of the halcyon days of summer when the garden was bountiful and life was easy.

It was easy, wasn’t it?

Nancy Heiser is a freelance journalist. She lives in midcoast Maine. Send comments to Address@globe.com.
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