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I noticed white among the basil today. They were at it again, trying to flower. I had a long stretch of time before dinner ahead of me without anything in particular to do, so I decided the time had come to process the basil.

I went inside (with two more brickbat cucumbers; also my first, slightly split, Cherokee Purple tomato) and came back out with kitchen shears. Previously, I had only plucked leaves off the basil plants, and I wonder if that was why they were never terribly discouraged from flowering. At any rate, today I cut branches and branches, ending up with about four cups of basil leaves and trimmed but not emaciated-looking basil plants. I’ve been feeling that I haven’t made optimal use of my herb plants, and this feeling was reinforced by looking at what I could have gotten away with weeks ago.

I made two batches of pesto, one with tomato instead of olive oil and one with tomato instead of olive oil and half the basil replaced with parsley. This last one turned out to be very good; I froze some and left the rest out for dinner. And I chopped up the rest of the basil and tucked it in the freezer. I’m happy with my basil consumption now; I’m going to let at least one of the plants (there are four) go to flower now in peace. But the rest will still be pressed into service when I start to serve up the tomatoes.

This was today’s harvest:

7-29 harvest

Now, I didn’t harvest yesterday or the day before because we shopping on Friday and to Jungle Jim’s (and spent $250 on food and kitchen gadgets, the latter mostly for presents) Saturday. But still. That picture is of eleven pounds of produce. Do you know how many cucumbers I have now? Too many, that’s how many. My friend M sent me some cucumber-containing recipes, which I will be trying this week (except the one that contains yogurt), but still…ridiculous.

So I went out after bringing this in and did what I never thought I would want to: cut vines and vines off the cucumber plants and trimmed back the tomato branches. Also a couple of cantaloupe branches. One of them contained an extremely immature cantaloupe. I took it inside and cut into it out of curiosity, and it tastes like a sweet cucumber.

I also found a cucumber I’d missed and a handful of beans, and finally harvested the coriander. 1.25 ounces, and it would have been more if I hadn’t tired of rubbing the dried stems to get the seeds.

Next year, as Eric suggested, I will go easier on the cucumbers and tomatoes and get more peppers and squashes (I’d say more beans, but it’s not for lack of planting that I don’t have many). This year, well, I’m just going to ride the tide and be glad for what I have.

I read Smitten sometimes, and while I haven’t tried many of her recipes it’s mainly because I forget to write them down. Today I went looking and this post resonated with me on a couple of levels.

First: I’m a little disappointed that I don’t have more zucchini. I should not be; this level, this every-several-days business, is exactly what I hoped for. Eric doesn’t like it, I only have a limited number of ways I know to prepare it, it’s not terribly nutritious, no big deal. But now, reading about other people’s plenteous harvests, I’m jealous.

Second, I too have bats. Not zucchini, but cucumbers. They were hiding under the eggplant. Honestly, they were. I took them in and showed Eric. “My God!” he said, horrified. “They’re baseball bats!” They weighed more than a pound each.

I gave them away. I have more cucumber in the fridge already. I will make cucumber salads this week, and more pickles if we can, and I will absolutely not plant this many cucumber plants next year.

I took Eric to the garden last night. He hasn’t seen it since June. This isn’t as odd as it sounds, as the garden is behind the garage and he hasn’t had to mow the grass for a month. But I had mentioned that one of the sunflowers was as tall as the garage, and he had to see for himself.

“Wow,” he said as we crossed the still-wet grass and stepped over the sad rabbit fence. “Tall as the garage. Those stems are two inches thick.” He looked around. “It’s definitely grown.” He looked at the sunflowers again. “What is all this?”

He was looking at the beautiful maroon plants in front of the sunflowers. “That’s amaranth,” I said. “For dyeing. And eating.”

“And those?” he said, pointing to the mess of cucurbit leaves in the northern end of the raised bed. “How do you even find anything under there?”

“The striped one is butternut squash, the rest are cantaloupe.” I rooted through the leaves and showed him the biggest cantaloupe, recently placed on a piece of cardboard.

“Hey, yeah!” he said. “It looks almost ripe! Is it?”

“Not quite. And these are all cucumbers. Next year I’m only planting one,” I added.

“These?” he said, moving past the cucurbit farm.

“Nasturtiums. Their leaves taste like radishes and they’re supposed to repel pests.”

“Oh, like marigolds. What’s that?” he said, pointing across the way.

“Potatoes.”

“Oh, of course.”

“And there’s tomato row. The bamboo stakes obviously didn’t work. I’ll get better ones next year.”

“Sure.” He looked at the raised bed. “Parsley?”

“No, carrots. The parsley is here. And there’s the dill and the baby strawberries.”

“You know,” he said, as we walked back to the house. “It’s not a garden so much as a forest. –But a tasty one.”

I picked carrots yesterday, intending to put them in a couscous-with-broiled-tomato/zucchini/onion/green beans dish for dinner, but I forgot and put the pan in the oven without cutting up the carrots. So I ate them raw, while reading, and that was much better anyway. I was quite pleased at having yet another almost-entirely-from-the-garden meal, too (as well as the snack).

I’m thinking that I am not as much a tomato lover as I ought to be, because I tried some of the enormous Brandywine raw before I cut up the rest for dinner, and it’s a good tomato, but it didn’t wow me. Oh well…I’m still marinating some seeds in their own juices to save them for next year. And next in the tomato lineup is a ripening tomato that may be a Cherokee Purple or may be a Celebrity, come to look at it…I grew them next to each other and the branches are sprawling everywhere, so it’s hard to tell. Next year, I’ll space and support the tomatoes better. Right?

The Moody Blues were playing last night, so I went out to the garden and pulled weeds for a while as I listened. I love how the weeds aren’t such a problem in midsummer…of course the ones that are there are the ones I’ve neglected and so are bigger and tougher. I also clipped as many cucurbit vine ends as I could find. Three cantaloupe plants is more than anyone needs, and three slicing cucumber plants is way more than anyone needs. I had always thought cucumber/basil sorbet sounded awful, but I’m considering it now just to use up some cucumber. Maybe I’ll learn to make lotion, or facial masks. Maybe I’ll buy a pepper and make a bunch of gazpacho. Maybe I’ll plant fewer plants next year.

Finally, the amaranth is doing well and looking beautiful, and it’s time for me to start experimenting with dyeing. I’m going to save one plant for seed (both for eating and for planting next year–apparently you can pop amaranth like popcorn) and the rest will go into the dyepot…once I get the time. Since I’m traveling this weekend and flying to the Dominican Republic next weekend, it may be a couple of weeks, or it may be the occupation of a lazy weeknight.

I picked my first Brandywine today! I didn’t taste it, though, as I had a bunch of cherries and Taxis to use in my dinner (quinoa salad, with a dressing of dill, parsley, basil, garlic, sugar, salt, and lime juice). It was almost a pound. Good grief. And the cantaloupe has definitely changed texture–it has what look like cracks all over its surface.

We made more pickles tonight. No word yet on their taste, but I noticed when clipping the dill that it had become sparser and tougher. It’s been trying to flower. It may be time to let it. The basil wants to, I know. When do you give up and let plants do what they want to do?

Ouch. I’ve been meaning to post since Friday, but Friday itself was taken up with what I wanted to post, Saturday was Harry Potter, and Sunday was volunteering. So here’s an overview of my last few days:

Friday – we made tabbouleh using parsley and tomatoes from the garden. I started the pita bread first (because you can’t have tabbouleh without pita bread, and though it takes a while we love it homemade) and then went out to the garden to cut parsley. I had heard it was wise to take only half or less or each plant, to allow it to recover and grow again, and as thick as the parsley was growing that took a bit. At length I grew tired of squatting and I had a nice pile of parsley in the bowl, so I went inside and hollered, “Eric? Would you tell me how much more I need to cut?”

“ALL OF IT,” he said, skidding into the kitchen. Then he looked at the bowl. “Um, no, actually, that’s plenty.” 

“There’s lots more if we need it,” I said.

“There’s more?” 

The tabbouleh was the best ever. (The pita didn’t poof, but I think I was in too much of a hurry to get to dinner and didn’t give it enough time to rest. Still tasted good.)

Saturday – we went to the local Borders for our Harry Potter book on Friday night, and didn’t get home until two because we hadn’t picked up a color-coded bracelet. We’d been discussing on and off who would get it first, but when we woke up Saturday I opened it up and we lay on the bed side by side, reading. Several hours later we finished and my head and eyes hurt too much to do any typing or much of anything. Excellent last book, though. I did pick my first lemon cucumber–it still had tiny black spines on it, but it was no longer growing taller, only wider–and we sliced and ate it, and it was very good.

Sunday – I went to the old mill at Providence Metropark and demonstrated spinning and knitting. I brought samples of various fibers to show little kids, but I noted I don’t have any cotton. Next year, when I grow cotton, I will bring some in (assuming I can grow it successfully). When I got back, I went to the garden, because I missed it, and found that a Brandywine and a Cherokee Purple are almost, almost, ready. We meant to pickle again that evening, but didn’t because we…got distracted. And I started a batch of slow-roasted tomatoes but didn’t allow enough time to cook them fully. They’re still in the oven at home (with the oven off), and I don’t know what will happen with them. But there are still Taxis coming if these don’t work out.

My sunflowers look like they’re starting to form heads. It’s hard to be sure, since they’re taller than me and they’re always turned towards the sun’s last position now, but I think that’s what they’re doing. It’s going to be glorious when they bloom.

I picked a decent number of beans off them last night. Next year I will definitely do this with purple-podded beans, not green. But I’m pleased that it worked out, and pleased that I got enough for two servings from just two plants. I’m still not sure why these beans did so poorly when the bush beans, two beds over, did so well. Fortunately I eat more dry beans than green beans anyway.

I also picked two cucumbers, six more Taxis, and a few cherry tomatoes. Everything else on tomato row is still determinedly green. I checked on the furthest-along cantaloupe (still white and oblong, starting to change texture a little near the stem, I think) and the one baby butternut squash (still little and cute) and found three more pickle cucumbers hiding in their corner. My pepper plant is finally bearing fruit–I counted three and maybe four big peppers growing on it. It’s much bigger now than the one I bought at the nursery. Huh.

When I got inside it occurred to me that perhaps I should share the bounty. (What I really want is to slow-roast the tomatoes, but there are several almost-ripe ones out there still, so I can afford to give some away.) So I called my mother-in-law, around the corner. It kind of drives me crazy that she doesn’t like us dropping by without calling, even just to drop something off, but she doesn’t, so I called. She didn’t answer. I put the cucumbers in the fridge.

About ten o’clock last night she called back. “You called?” she said, sounding slightly concerned.

“I was just wondering if I could drop off some tomatoes,” I explained.

There was a pause. “You have tomatoes on the vine?”

“Well, yes. Just yellow tomatoes and some cherries, but I thought you might like a few.”

“Yellow tomatoes and some cherries,” she repeated. “Could you come by tomorrow?”

“Are things coming along?” my neighbor called over the fence as I stood looking at the sprawling tomatoes in that bed.

“Huh?” I said intelligently.

He gestured at the tomatoes on his side, flanking the tomatoes and cucumber and cantaloupe on mine. “In the garden?”

“Oh!” I held up a perfect yellow tomato. “Just fine.”

“Same here,” he said. “We’re going to have a lot of tomatoes. If you happen to want some, feel free to come over and pick them.”

“I’m going to have plenty myself,” I said, “But thanks.”

“Zucchini and cucumber, too,” his wife called from inside their house.

“I have those too,” I said, regretfully. I’ll have to offer them a cantaloupe or two if mine do well. “But thanks!”

They went back to whatever they were doing and I headed for the garden proper. The basil were flowering and I thought to myself, Why are they flowering again? I don’t want them to flower again! But I still don’t have tomatoes to cook them with!

Then I went to the tomato row and noticed flashes of color. A Taxi tomato came to my hand, wetter than it should have been, and I found it had been bitten into.

But I’m not too worried about it. I’ve started using a bowl for harvest now and it came in today with three pickle cucumbers, a bunch of basil tops, and ten yellow tomatoes.

I stood in the backyard this afternoon, barefoot, the sun filtering through the trees and falling on my face, with a popsicle in one hand and a book in the other, looking at the flowers along the fence. That was my quintessential moment of summer.

Daylily

Flowers and even fruit are only the beginning. In the seed lies the life and the future.

Marion Zimmer Bradley

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