If you have ever grown a vegetable garden you know it can be feast or famine. You can end up with three scrawny beans after the rabbits eat most of the row or bushels of zucchini if the summer rains hit just right.

Tomatoes and peppers love the heat of the summer while peas, lettuce and spinach thrive in the cool spring season. The weather, temperature and moisture play big parts in which vegetable take the prize for producing the biggest harvest of the season. Insects also throw us a curve when we are not looking.

My daughter learned to catch in the garden one summer when she was small. I had planted a 30-foot row of cucumber seeds (must have been a lot of seeds in the packets) and the vines grew thick and long. It was a tangled mess but perfect conditions for every female flower to be pollinated and produce the cutest little cucumbers. The more I picked the faster they grew. It was hard picking all those cukes and walking back and forth, tripping over the thick vines to the five-gallon bucket. It was a losing battle.

I walked back to the house, put Heather in the wheelbarrow and told her we were going on an adventure. It would be like hunting Easter eggs but instead of chicken eggs we were going to look for “pickle eggs.” She asked what kind of bird laid pickle eggs and I told her to ask her dad. I picked and tossed the cucumbers to her as she tried to catch them and put them in the wheelbarrow.

That year there were several wheelbarrels full of pickle eggs. The next year I planted a 10-foot row and the cucumber blight took all the plants down and only one or two deformed fruit grew. They were too sad looking to even take back to the kitchen.

The first tomatoes or green beans out of the garden are priceless. Who does not savor that first BLT with juice from that vine-ripened tomato dripping off your chin? We wait nine months for that fresh produce out of the garden. But after the fourth or fifth BLT the flavor is still there but some of the excitement has faded.

To get the most out of your garden vegetables keep picking and don’t stop. If you don’t can or freeze the vegetables then share them. Share with the neighbors, friends or relatives. One productive year, (a 30-foot row of zucchini, what was I thinking?) I had no choice but to leave several zucchini on friends’ doorsteps, ring the door bell and run. I shared with several elderly friends who could not garden anymore. They were thrilled at the first ones I dropped off but would pull their shades and pretend not to be home several weeks later when I stopped to drop off more. I have always shared my produce and so should you.

If you have an abundance of fruits or vegetables, Lori Freudenberg, the Community Outreach Director of Franciscan Peace Center says, “Please share."

Fresh produce is a treat for many people who do not have access to these types of healthy foods. Oftentimes, eating healthy is very expensive. Sharing your extra produce is a wonderful way to help families provide healthy food options and introduce new foods to their children.

Some locations to share your produce are: The Canticle for their “Share a Sandwich” program, the Associate Benevolent Society, the Salvation Army, Free In Jesus Food Pantry, and the Victory Center.

Keep picking. Eat what you can and then share the extra. All will benefit.

Margo Hansen is the Director of Programs at the Bickelhaupt Arboretum.

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