One Zucchini, Two Zucchini, Three Zucchini, Four

SH-zukes soloYou can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Lights in Water, Dancing, will be out later this year.

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Please share these with your friends, co-workers, and all the family members you like best. I understand they go great with morning coffee.

It happens this time every year. The abundance of zucchini squash is really hard to keep up with. Wil Bennett and his friends Brian Lambert and Dave Muzzy think they might have a way to help with the abundance.

This is the first of two parts. Hope you can drop by next week to find out what happens or—better yet—subscribe so that each Carding Chronicle finds its way right into your inbox.

Enjoy!

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“Sorry Lee, but I can’t take them.” Andy Cooper shook his head regretfully from the steps of the loading dock at the back of his general store. “Folks with gardens are overrun with zucchini right now, and they’re flooding their neighbors with ‘em as well. So I can’t even give them away.”

Lee Tennyson sighed, his shoulders sagging under the weight of a bushel basket filled with long, thin green squash. “What am I going to do with them?” he asked. “Even the chickens don’t seem that interested. My wife’s complaining that their eggs have got a greenish tinge to them.”

“Zucchini bread?” Andy asked.

Lee raised an eyebrow. “Do you have any idea how full our freezer is of zucchini bread and our pantry has enough zucchini relish in it to cover all the hot dogs in Fenway Park.”

Andy shook his head again. “I am sorry Lee. Happens this time every year. If you could grow ‘em in January, you’d get a couple of bucks a pound for them. But now?”

“I know, I know,” Lee said. “I thought I would try. These just may end up in the compost pile.”

There are all kinds of seasons in Vermont—fall (our most treasured), mud or frost heave (they overlap), black fly, early winter, late winter, and mid-winter with a little bit of summer thrown in for good measure. Each has their notoriety and accompanying legends but perhaps no other season is quite so infamous as the shortest season of them all—ripe zucchini season.

First-time gardeners always get caught in its trap, thinking that if one zucchini plant is good then three or four must be better. At first they can keep up with the harvest easily, grilling squash with their chicken thighs, grating it for salads, tossing it in with red tomatoes for fresh spaghetti sauce.

But then the zukes really get going, rewarding the gardeners with two, three, four, five, and sometimes six pickable squash a day. And soon it’s zucchini with every meal, and the spicy smell of zucchini bread rises from ovens all over town.

Gardeners beg their neighbors to “take a couple” until the neighbors lock their doors. And then, inevitably, every gardener, no matter how meticulous, finds a giant zuke hiding under the plant’s leaves, and it’s now the size of a sack of potatoes.

Second-year gardeners vow not to be fooled. “Just because there are 20 seeds in the seed pack doesn’t mean you have to plant them,” they tell one another. So instead of four hills of squash, they plant two but because they don’t want the leftover seeds to go to waste, each of those hills has five seeds.

Which means that second-year gardeners usually reap the same harvest as newbies.

But even long time gardeners can get caught with their zucchini down if the conditions are right—enough early rain, a lack of borers munching on the stalks, and long sunny days as August rolls into September.

The conditions have been perfect this year so everyone in Carding has more than enough zucchini.

“Hey Mr. Tennyson, we’ll buy your zucchini,” Wil Bennett said as Lee turned to leave the general store’s loading dock.

The good-natured farmer squinched up eyebrows. “Can I ask what you want them for?”

Wil’s eyes flicked from his friend Brian on his left to his friend Dave on his right in a way that immediately set off small alarm bells in Lee’s head. “Umm, can we just say that we’re the Society for the Prevention of Unwanted Zucchini?” Brian asked.

“Uh huh, try again,” Lee said.

“Umm, we need them for a project,” Dave said.

“A project? What kind of project? Something for school?”

“Umm, not exactly,” Wil said.

Lee noted the slight smirk on his face. “Okay, what’s this really about?” The three teens showed a sudden interest in their shoes.

Lee looked at the bushel basket on the ground near his feet, and then looked at the three friends. He’d known Wil and Dave since they were born, and even though Brian was new to town, Lee knew and liked his father, Jamal. They were all good kids.

“Are you planning to smash them on the road?” he asked.

“No.”

“Are you going to leave them in people’s cars without permission?”

They shook their heads. “Are you kidding, everyone in town knows where we live,” Dave said.

“Really Mr. Tennyson, we are not planning to use them for destructive purposes,” Brian said.

Andy Cooper, who was still on the loading dock, started to smile. Being the owner of Carding’s general store gave him unfettered access to all the best rumors in town, and he’d heard something only that morning about the pro-am tournament up at the Mount Merino Golf Club that had piqued his curiosity. He reached out to interrupt Lee’s next question.

“You three have been working as caddies up at the golf club, am I right?” Andy asked.

The three teens suddenly grew still until Wil reluctantly answered, “Yeah. We are.”

Andy pulled his wallet out of his back pocket, and turned toward Lee. “How much were you hoping to sell that basket of squash for?”

“Thirty.”

“How about I give you forty, and you let these guys take the basket, too. Is that fair?”

“Thanks Mr. Cooper, Mr. Tennyson,” Wil said as they trundled off to Dave’s car with what Lee figured was 60 pounds of squash.

“What was that all about?” Lee asked as the teens drove away.

“Hmph, I heard that the members of the golf club have been stiffing the caddies, including those three,” Andy said. “The tournament starts tomorrow, biggest event of the year for all the snobs up there. I thought it might be interesting to see what those kids are going to do about it.”

Lee handed back one of the two twenties Andy had paid him. “Let’s split it. I want in on this.”

Lee handed back one of the two twenties Andy had paid him. “Let’s split it. I want in on this.”

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