Fire in the Garlic Patch

By fallspark, April 24th, 2011 | No Comments »

Do you want to hear about my ‘ big boo-boo’?  Here goes . . .

Back in February Henry took me to a veggie conference put on by various horticulture departments.  I went to all the variety trial seminars, etc., but what was Henry supposed to do?  So he went to the equipment-type talks and we are now the proud owners of a Glazer wheel hoe, a collinear hoe, a long-handled wire weeder, and a flame weeder.

It’s not your normal, buy- it-at-Campbell’s Supply-flame weeder; but a five-burner, 500 BTU’s each, 34” wide, with a special 10# propane tank, carry-it-in-your-backpack flame weeder.

It was one of those ‘I’ve a ton of things to do today before it rains’ days; what should I do first?  Alissa was weeding her iris so I offered my help.  Innocent enough, right?

“Hey, Lissy!  Let’s try our new flamer!”  We put it all together, hauled it out to the garden, shouldered the backpack, turned on the gas, lit the burners, and off I went.  Few little fires here and there as leaves and thatch caught, but Alissa was there and she stomped them out.  Not a big deal.

“I’m going to burn around the Hill Garden.”

“Well, I’m not going to follow you around all day!  Put out your own fires.”

Still not a big deal.  Burnt the north side, no problem.  Burnt the west side, still no problem.  Started on the south side along the shallots and garlic.  No big deal.  I was working backwards; steers better that way.  There were little mounds of straw mulch that we’d removed from the rows.  I’d kick it out of the way and continue on my way.

Well, somehow, one piece of straw caught fire and led to another piece of straw and somehow as I kicked straw out of the way, I must have kicked burning straw into the garden onto a whole row of straw.  Suddenly I was surrounded in fire!

“LISSY!  HELP!!!!!!!!!!”

We’re both stomping as fast as we can but it’s windy!  And the fire is growing.

“Get some spades!”

She runs!  She comes running back.  We pound and stomp.  The fire grows!

“Mom!  We gotta call the fire department!”

“Work!  We can get it out!”  (We’ve started lots of fires in the past, had a few close calls but we’ve always gotten them out.)

“NO!   It’s growing and we can’t get it out!  We HAVE to call them.”

“You call them!”  She runs to the house.  (Remember; young, skinny girls can run!)

“The garden’s on fire.  We need a fire truck!”

“What’s on fire?”

“The garden!”

“The garden?”

“The STRAW in the garden!”

Josh and Rick are working in Hawarden and they hear the page:  “Fire department needed at Henry Kattenberg, 2710 Hickory.  The straw in the garden is on fire.”

“Do you think Mom was so stupid to play with that torch thing Dad bought her on such a windy day?”  (Naw!)

I’m still stomping and smashing flames.  The black plastic mulch disappears before my eyes.  The beautiful shallot and garlic plants just seem to melt.  I’d drag straw back and try to make a break of soil but the wind fanned the flames so fast that sometimes I’d be pulling burning straw onto good straw.  Many times my jeans were so hot I’d look to see if they were burning.  My forehead felt scorched.

When are the fire fighters ever going to get here?  Even while fighting the fire, one eye is on the road, longing for the fire truck.  There’s the veterinarian, the mail man, another car, a pickup.  No fire truck.

Finally, mentally I gave up the bottom half of the garden and started to pitch good straw into the fire.  (I’m shaking while I write this.  Yaa, I’ve had three cups of coffee this morning but it was scary!)  The wind would pick up bunches of burning straw and roll it along to a new section and up would go the flames again.

Lissy comes running back out.  She grabs some hose and gets it half way to the garden.  Doesn’t reach.

“MOM!  Move the propane tank!”

She runs off to the greenhouse to disconnect that hose and starts to haul it up.

‘Move the propane tank . . . move the propane tank . . .  Oh . . . I better not let the fire fighters see how I started this fire.  Ok . . . ok . . .  I’ll drag it out of here.’  I pick it all up and try to run.  I’m not young and I’m not skinny and it’s heavy.  I lumber along.  ‘Where to put it  . . . where to put it . . .  can’t let them see how I started this fire . . . under the overhang . . . .  no . . . there’ll be guys all over when they get here.’  Lumber, lumber to the other side of the house.  ‘Window wells . . .  I’ll dump it in the window well.  They won’t see it there!’

I grab the other end of the hose and start pulling.  Huff, huff, puff, puff.  It reaches!  Lissy gets it connected.  Turn the water on.  Is that all the water that comes out of a hose?  When are they ever going to get here?

We’re making progress.  We’ve got the fire contained to the bottom half.

“Mom, (puff, puff) let’s cancel the fire call.”

“Ok, ok . . . you go call.”

“I AM NOT CALLING!  YOU go call!”

“Ok, ok.”  Lumber, lumber.   Huff.  Puff.  “This is Harriet puff Kattenberg.  We’ve got the puff fire under puff control and don’t need puff the fire truck puff anymore.”

“You have the fire under control?  Are you sure?”

“Yes, (puff, puff) we should be ok.”

“Well, they are only two miles away.  I don’t think I can turn them back anymore.”

Lumber, lumber . . . back to the garden.  Lissy flops down onto some good straw.  “I can’t get my breath.  My chest hurts.”

All of a sudden, HERE THEY COME!  And they come and they come.  One truck after another!

Now you have to picture what the firemen see.  They come be-bopping over the hill.  There’s the place of the call.  There’s a little black patch in a sea of green.  One person is lying on some nice yellow straw.  One person is standing there with a garden hose, sprinkling some little wisps of smoke.  They slow the rigs down.  They come crawling past.

Their eyes are searching for fire.  Finally I give this little limp wave.  Maybe they’ll just go away?

Nope, they turn on the driveway.  The fire truck, the rescue truck, the water truck, the patrol man, the ambulance . . . I just can’t look!

“Lissa!  Get up!  Don’t let them see you lie there!”

“Mom, don’t you think you better go talk to the men?”

The guys are getting out of the trucks.  Some are completely suited up in fire fighting gear.  I walk across the lawn.  All eyes are looking at me.  (I’m glad I put on a clean shirt this morning!)  What must I say?  How embarrassing!

I slap my hands to my cheeks.  “That was scary!”

They just look at me!

(Uuuummm . . .)  “It sure takes you guys along time to get here!”  (Awk!  I didn’t say that, did I?)

“Don’t need us?”

“Nope, we’re ok.”

They quietly turn and get into their trucks, turn the rigs around and go back to town.

More equipment is parked on the road and these guys cut through the orchard to the garden.  I walk back out there.  My mouth is so dry and now more eyes.

Hands to cheeks.  “That was scary!”

They smile.

“It sure takes you guys a long time to get here!”  (Awk!  I said it again.  How awful!)

“When we hear ‘grass fire’ we run!”  (Oh!)

“Do you think my garlic will grow back?”

“Knowing garlic, it probably will.”  And they head back to their rigs.

That night when the boys came home they gave me lots of hassle.  “Mom, how could you call off the fire fighters?  That’s mean!  You should have let the garden burn.  You really deprived those men.  They ARE fire fighters after all.  They get a call and their adrenaline is pumping.  They drop their work; they’re going to a fire!  And here you put it out before they can get there.  What a let down!”

“There’s something even worse.  I told them it took them along time to get here.  I can’t believe I said something so mean!”

“Their response time was ten minutes.  That’s pretty good.  They have to get into their vehicles, drive across town, get the rigs running, and drive out five miles.  Actually they made really good time.”

Fire is an amazing creature.  It is all powerful.  You have no control over it.  And when it’s out, there’s nothing left to show for its power; a bit of black ash that will disappear in the first rain.

Alissa and I are still shaking our heads that we panicked like we did.  In the large picture of things, that fire wasn’t going anywhere.  Everything is green.  Besides Henry had told me last fall already not to plant ALL the garlic on black plastic mulch but just try SOME.  Well, now half is on plastic and half isn’t.  (And I didn’t even apply for a grant to run these trials.)

Besides, I probably don’t need 1552 shallots or 984 garlic anyway!

Harriet Kattenberg (Hull, Iowa)

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