Curbing my cucurbit chaos: Jerry Nelson

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Jerry Nelson

One of my long-term goals has been to organize my metaphorical chaos drawer.

I have never wanted to be a super-organizer such as Martha Stewart. I would be happy to just have a bit more order to smooth out the ragged edges of life’s disarray.

Some of this disorder isn’t my fault. When our area was hit by a derecho – followed a few weeks later by a tornado – it was clear that chaos had won the day. In my case, that trendy new activity called “decluttering” required the use of chainsaws, payloaders and some heavy earthmoving equipment. I bet Martha doesn’t have any of that stuff sitting around in in her tidy little garden shed.

I’ve tried more than once to fight the randomness that inevitably creeps into life like a mouse who sneaks into your wife’s sock drawer and makes himself at home. But unlike the mouse, who will elicit a shriek and an expletive when the little varmint peeks out from beneath a pile of hosiery, the arrival of chaos is seldom a surprise to me. It’s gotten to the point where I expect it.

One of my recent efforts to combat chaos took place this spring when I planted our garden. I tidily marked where each viny vegetable was planted with little red flags. Within half an hour our dog, Bella, had removed most of the flags and redistributed them randomly throughout the garden. Bella operates on the belief that the entire planet is her playpen.

In the end it didn’t matter where the flags had been placed because the pumpkins, gourds and squash didn’t give a fig about borders. They went wherever they pleased even though none of them had the proper documentation.

We recently received our first killing frost of autumn. The garden was transformed overnight from an unbroken canopy of emerald, elephant ear-like leaves into a plant-based version of the Hindenburg disaster. Oh, the vegetation!     

But it was also a clear signal that harvesttime was at hand. I backed the pickup down to the garden and began to pick things up.

Randomness rules

Chaos reigned. Some of the roving gourds had snuck off into the tall grass and had babies there. Many of the squash had found novel ways to violate territorial boundaries and I found several pumpkins that had wedged themselves into some really weird places.

It was like an Easter egg hunt except there was no candy involved. And it went on and on; I continued to find yet another trove of black pumpkins or Technicolor gourds.

A John Deere 3010 with an attached loader proved to be an effective  tool for gathering gourds.

I soon concluded that I would have to call up my big guns, pumpkin collecting-wise: my trusty John Deere 3010. Hundreds of steps were saved as I trundled cucurbits into the 3010’s loader bucket. I was even able to exert a tiny bit of order onto the chaos by arranging the fruits by color and size. This orderliness quickly devolved into a muddled jumble when I offloaded the loader’s cargo into the bed of the pickup.

Next came the fun part and the reward for my labors. My wife and I loaded up our car and went off to play Pumpkin Fairy.

The Pumpkin Fairy visits relatives and friends of ours each October, leaving colorful pumpkins, gourds and squash on their doorsteps. It’s like going trick-or-treating only in reverse.

Here again, randomness rules. There’s no system, no rhyme or reason as to why someone will get these splashy gourds or those warty pumpkins. But having no system is also a system. Sort of.

As we dropped off a bunch of decorative fall fruits at my sister Jane’s house, she said, “The neighbor lady across the street has two boys. Could they have some too?”

I glanced at the collection of cucurbits that appeared to encompass several metric tons and said, “Sure. Tell them to come over and help themselves.”

The lady and her youngest son soon arrived. I would guess that he was about seven years old – a prime age for everything Halloween, especially carving pumpkins.

The boy shyly hid his face behind his mom’s leg. But after a small amount of encouragement, he chose an orange pumpkin that had more warts than the world’s scariest witch.

As the lad and his mom walked across the street, he glanced back over his shoulder. He was wearing a grin that was wider than any jack-o’-lantern.

That brief moment was so totally random. It’s certainly not what I envisioned last summer as I watered and weeded the pumpkin patch.

I guess I should just make peace with chaos. Because there are times when a little randomness can be utterly delightful.

If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and at booksellers everywhere.