One of my collateral duties is massaging the words of college-educated gardeners into a Friday column called “In the Yard.”

We live in a part of the country where horticulturists and chefs are awarded guru status.

South Louisiana gardeners and diners hold experts to a high standard. Many of us garden and all of us like good food. We may not be experts, but we know enough about our passionate pursuits to ask good questions.

I love radio shows where people call up, describe a diseased plant or a problem lawn, and the host, without seeing the blighted crape myrtle or the drought-blasted grass, takes his best shot at a remedy.

Physicians won’t diagnose over the radio, but expert gardeners, lawyers and financial planners are free with advice that carries the caveat of listener beware.

Sometimes, readers send photographs of their vegetables to the newspaper or their children and grandchildren posing behind large vegetables.

My first city editor loved such photographs. We tried not to encourage him, but, secretly, we were impressed by the squash that looked like Richard Nixon.

There’s something about a small child standing beside a tomato bush or holding an arm load of eggplant that gladdens the heart.

I have nothing against hunters who pose their children atop dead, horned animals, but trophy eggplant is what I hunt.

I fish so I’m not averse to taking the life of a wild creature, though I usually let the bass go. I’m too lazy to clean them, and can’t bring myself to throw them on the bank. Pond owners who hire me to thin their fish herds have got the wrong man.

There is probably a group that defends the rights of vegetables, but their leaflets (Oh, I made a pun) have not reached my mailbox.

This time of year, I find myself with an embarrassment of riches as the eggplant and cucumbers produce at a preposterous rate.

I imagine neighbors drawing their blinds and slipping the safety latch on their doors as I head down the street with my garden surplus.

The recent rains have only encouraged my garden. What I planted as “giant zinnia seed” has lived up to its billing.

Somewhere in the forest of tall, thick-stemmed, big-headed zinnia are two eggplants. I find ready-to-pick eggplant by stooping to look under the zinnia canopy. With scissors, I cut the pendulant, deep purple, Ichiban eggplant.

Ichiban are the long eggplants that grow to the size of mature cucumbers.

I grow vegetables because it’s a good use of dirt that would otherwise require mowing. I admit to a certain smugness when there are reports of outbreaks of vile diseases on lettuce and cucumbers.

Because I don’t spray for bugs or diseases, my vegetable plants aren’t always the prettiest, but I don’t worry about death by salad, either.