Title: Frodo's A-maize-ing Garden
Theme: Back to Middle-earth Month 2015
Elements: This prompt from grey_wonderer: Frodo decides to plant a section of the garden himself, believing he will enjoy raising his own tomatoes, potatoes, whatever you want him to attempt to grow is fine. How well does he do? Does he get any help? Is Sam offended? Amused? Annoyed?
This can be pre-Quest or post-Quest.
Author's Notes: Well, this is what came to me when I saw the prompt. Obviously it is partially inspired by movie-verse, in which Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin collide in the middle of Farmer Maggot's cornfield. Since the word "corn" has another meaning in most of the rest of the world, I've chosen to use the word "maize" which is used elsewhere than the USA, and is not unfamiliar to most Americans, though it isn't common here. Other notes at the end of the story.
Summary: The Gaffer is not amused when Bilbo and Frodo want to grow a "furrin" food from Buckland.
Word Count:1,100 (Eleven drabble series)
Frodo's pang at watching the Brandybuck carriage take Merry away from his annual spring visit to Bag End was blunted by curiosity as he looked at the package Aunt Esme had given him. "An early birthday present," she'd said, for she'd be in Whitwell with the Tooks on her birthday. He opened it in anticipation, for he had no clue what she might have given him.
He untied the string, and pulled away the thin muslin in which it came. There was a small burlap bag that rattled. He opened it, and gave a delighted shout. "Uncle Bilbo!
"Maize, Mr. Bilbo?" In spite of the Gaffer's mild tone and respectful attitude, Bilbo could sense the waves of displeasure rolling off his gardener like shimmers of heat on a dry summer day.
"Why not?" Bilbo returned, in as neutral a tone as he could manage.
"We don't have no cows nor pigs, Mr. Bilbo. And what I hear, maize uses up a lot of the good from the earth, and takes a lot of garden space to get much out of it." Clearly his mind was made up.
"Very well, Master Hamfast. I won't ask you to plant it."
Sam overheard and was disappointed. For one thing it was a shame Mr. Frodo would get no use from his aunt's gift, and for another, Sam was fascinated by the idea of a crop that was new and different.
But his Gaffer didn't take with no "furrin plants"; Sam knew Mr. Bilbo wouldn't argue no more. But Sam knew they grew a lot of things that were "furrin". Mr. Bilbo had told him tomatoes, pipe-weed, pumpkins, even 'taters was from that same foreign place, Westernesse that sank beneath the Sea.
Still, Sam knew the Gaffer wouldn't want to hear it.
"I'm afraid the Gaffer won't plant it, Frodo. If I give him a direct order he will comply, but his heart won't be in it."
"I understand, Uncle Bilbo," Frodo sighed. Sweet maize, boiled upon the cob and served hot and dripping with butter, was one the great treats of a Buckland summer. Only in the Marish was eating maize grown. Elsewhere it was thought of as merely fodder for the livestock.
"I don't think you do, lad. Do you know enough to tend it yourself if I give you a corner of the garden?"
Frodo smiled. "I certainly do."
The Gaffer was surprised the following day to find that a portion of the lower garden, which was usually lawn, had been staked off. Not only that, but to his astonishment, Mr. Frodo was pushing the small hand tiller they used for preparing the kitchen garden behind the smial. He'd have to speak to Mr. Bilbo! Mr. Frodo couldn't just go tearing up the property like that!
He turned to do so, when he saw his Master coming. "Good morning, Master Hamfast," he said cheerily. "Isn't Frodo doing a good job preparing his part of the garden for his maize?"
It was on the following Highday that Frodo invited Sam to come fishing with him down at the Water. Since there was no work to be done that day, the Gaffer gave permission. He was still unhappy over Frodo's maize plot, but was getting over it. They walked along, poles over their shoulders. Sam carried the worms they'd dug, and Frodo had a bucket.
They cast their lines and Frodo quickly had a hit. He pulled it in.
Sam looked disappointed. "He's too small to keep."
Frodo shook his head. "Too small for hobbits, perhaps, but not for the maize!"
Sam watched as Frodo carefully heaped up the earth in his plot into little hills. In each one he buried a fish, before planting the little kernels. He grinned. The Gaffer could not bear to watch, so he'd set Sam to tending the kitchen garden out back while he kept to the front, but he knew his father would want to hear all about it anyway, though Sam had to pretend he was speaking only to Marigold.
He knew that the Gaffer was hoping Frodo's efforts would fail, but truth to tell, Sam would put his wager on Mr. Frodo.
When the maize was almost knee-high, Frodo undertook the next steps. When Bilbo had gone to Michel Delving on business, he'd had him pick up seeds for speckled beans and pumpkins. He'd no intention of using seeds the Gaffer had saved in the garden shed from last year. This was how the maize was grown in Buckland and the Marish, and he was confident it would work, but he'd rather not waste that seed if it did not.
Carefully, he planted the beans around the tiny stalks, and the pumpkin seeds in small hills he made between the maize hills.
Frodo's garden was the talk of Hobbiton. Every time the Gaffer set foot in The Ivy Bush, he was twitted by his friends. He'd finally given in to curiosity and took a secret look at the plot. Not only was the maize now taller than a hobbit's head, but the beans was a-crawling up the stalks, fine and leafy, and the pumpkin vines were growing well. Why, grown thataway between the mounds, they kept the weeds down a treat. And didn't it beat all, the way a gentlehobbit like young Mr. Frodo worked!
He was sorry he'd ever said "No".
It was the first week in Wedmath when the maize was ready for harvest. Frodo felt proud as he picked the first green ear and pulled back the husk to reveal the juicy yellow kernels. The ear was plump and blemish-free. It was just right! To have it at its best he'd need to harvest it at once, and serve it right away. He'd need baskets! And he'd need to tell Bilbo they'd should set some cauldrons boiling.
And, he grinned as he thought to himself, send invitations to all down the Hill so that I can share my bounty!
The Gaffer took a deep breath. Crow was not his favouritest thing in the world to eat. That maize was sweet and juicy, nigh on as good as mushrooms. He owed Mr. Bilbo and Mr. Frodo an apology, he did.
The two of 'em was still a-finishing up, their mouths all greasy with butter, as they gnawed on the cobs. They looked a right treat, they did, and the Gaffer smiled to see it.
"Mr. Bilbo, sir; Mr. Frodo..." he began, twisting his hat in his hands.
Bilbo waved a hand. "Say no more, Gaffer. Just remember the next time."
Author's End Notes: I've never personally grown corn in my own garden, but I have helped tend and harvest it in other people's gardens. I have grown beans and pumpkins, however. The method I described is the ones that the Native Americans taught the settlers from England.
Of course, maize (corn), tobacco (pipe-weed), tomatoes, potatoes, squash, pumpkins and many other plants that make appearances in Middle-earth, either book or movie verse, are New World plants. My head-canon is that they were brought over from Nûmenor, along with athelas.
I also know that our modern big corn that is sweet and juicy is also a fairly recent development. But perhaps over the long millennia since the Third Age, the plants were lost.