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My tomatoes have been suspiciously quiet lately. Oh, the two cherry tomatoes (including the weed, which I actually pulled up a couple of weeks ago because I didn’t like the tomatoes that much, but that hasn’t stopped the pre-existing ones from ripening) are still firing off their tiny tangy ammunition, but I haven’t gotten a Brandywine or a Cherokee Purple or a Celebrity in a long time. It’s a little sad–but then, I’m still contemplating the various uses of cherry tomatoes, so it’s not all bad.
I was picking some cherries from aforementioned weed and noticed the neighbors’ tomato plants were doing well. Very well. So well, in fact, that they had climbed the supports the neighbors had leaned against our shared fence (with my permission) and were draping themselves all over my side of the fence.
And then I noticed the tomatoes on these plants. Big yellow tomatoes. Small, fuzzy tomatoes. Dark tomatoes. I think I live next to heirloom tomato growers.
Some of those tomatoes looked almost ready, and a couple of them, unseen from their angle through the thick foliage but visible from mine because of the fence, had fallen and rotted, which was a shame. I was tempted to reach over the fence and take some of the ripe ones. Only there’s no need to steal; these neighbors offered me any tomatoes (or cucumbers, or zucchini–I wonder if their cucumbers died like mine have?) I wanted several weeks ago, and all I have to do is ask.
Now I have to wait for them to be outside the same time I am. Or wait for the green tomatoes from their plants, hanging over my side, to ripen…
Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire. –Gustav Mahler
I’ve spent a lot more time in the kitchen this summer than I ever have before. Some of it’s been spent cooking with my wonderful fresh veggies and herbs, and some of it–a surprising amount–has been spent putting away the food I can’t use up. There are bags and bags of tomatoes in the freezer: chopped, roasted, dried, juiced. There are bags of grated zucchini, some for bread, some for fritters. (Zucchini fritters may be my most favorite new recipe.) There’s pesto and pasta sauce. There are green beans and dried beans (if not many). There’s dried sage in my pantry, and basil and oregano and rosemary will soon be joining it.
And I know I’ve barely touched what I could be doing, what some people are doing–canning, pickling, drying all sorts of things. Maybe next year I will. But I don’t know. Even the small amount of food preservation I’ve done has taken a lot of time. And no, I don’t have any particularly pressing competitors for my time. But it occurs to me that this, perhaps, is the chief benefit, the main timesaver that technology has given us: it is not necessary for us to preserve food for the winter. I don’t have the slightest need to save any of my tomatoes, or my herbs, or my beans. I can go buy food. I can’t necessarily buy food this good, or this variety, but if I don’t preserve a single thing this summer, I’ll still eat well this winter.
Now that I’ve thought about it, this is marvelous. I imagine how the first humans must have coped during the cold months, eating what small, stringy meat they could find, maybe some roots they had saved, maybe even grains with some water. As agriculture grew, methods for saving the harvest would have as well. But until the globalization of food production, until freezers and supermarkets, winter would always be something to keep in mind, winter hunger something to fight all summer. I can only imagine how the knowledge of what, and how, and how much to store to last an entire winter would be passed on from generation to generation. For my society at least, that knowledge is lost. And I think it’s a good thing that we don’t need it anymore; I just hope we won’t need it again without being able to gradually relearn.
So yes, I will continue learning about food preservation, not because I need to, but because I want to know what my ancestors knew. And perhaps next year I won’t scale down my garden to my consumption, as I had entertained the thought of doing. Perhaps I’ll increase it to its utmost and store what I can’t eat fresh, and learn what it takes to pull the fangs of winter.
I brought in the potato harvest today:
I know, it’s not much, but I’m jazzed about it. I planted three Irish Cobbler seed potatoes and pretty much forgot about them except to occasionally clear away the bindweed. I cut two of them with my shovel, and those made some excellent roasted-garlic mashed potatoes tonight.
Harvest isn’t fazing me much anymore but I marveled at these potatoes. All that time they were in the ground and I didn’t know! I pulled up one of the plants (I dug them up too early, it turns out) and saw the tiny, tiny marble-sized potatoes embedded among the roots. I should have taken a picture, but I was muddy and hot. There were tons of earthworms around them, and the dirt there is much better than I remember it being, just like Michele on Garden Rant said. Perhaps I’ll plant potatoes in the new herb garden this year instead of bothering to dig up all that sod?
Today, I entered today’s harvest (including three monstrous zucchini–it rained buckets the past couple of days and now I feel I’ve had the authentic zucchini experience; these things weren’t even visible last time I was out there! And they’re yellow, so they’re hard to miss!) into my Excel spreadsheet. Yes, I’m tracking this on Excel. Yes, I’m a dork.
And today, I finally broke even. The cash equivalent of my total harvest thus far is more than the money I spent on the garden this year. That even includes mulch for the side bed, which isn’t part of the vegetable garden in any way, and doesn’t count the vegetables that were attacked by bugs or split open before I could harvest them.
Now, this isn’t a totally fair comparison, I know, since some of that food was given away and a little spoiled before I could use it, and I wouldn’t have bought some of it (for example, a gallon of basil) in order to get it. But still, it’s a decent way of figuring out my return. I used fairly reasonable prices–$2/lb for tomatoes, $1/lb for beans (also? In retrospect, I’m so glad most of my bean plants didn’t come up), $2 for each cantaloupe, $0.50 for each zucchini except the really gigantic ones.
And I’ve “earned” almost three hundred dollars. And the harvest isn’t over yet.
I’ve harvested–no, that’s not right. My garden has produced five cantaloupes. Due to the rain, I think, two of them had split and were not in a shape I would like to bring into my house. So they’re moldering on the compost pile now. It’s very sad, except that we still have one and a half cantaloupes in the house, waiting to be eaten. There are more green ones out there. It turns out that four cantaloupe plants is too many.
I’ve been slowly cleaning up the mess from The Time We Were Away, and while there is still work to be done, I’m not as hopeless as I was. One cucumber plant has turned brown and mushy and has accordingly been pulled out. The birds have discovered the felled sunflower, which I had left where it was because it’s still got bean vines twined around it and they’re producing nicely. Yesterday its head was a mass of empty, immature seed shells. The still-growing ones seem to be untouched so far, but I’ll watch them. The onions have been removed from the soggy ground. I need to dig up the potatoes, but not until it’s cooler outside. And, happily, the Toga eggplants have finally produced fruit and are turning orange. They’re smaller than I expected, and I hope that means they won’t be bitter.
The weather the last few days has been awful–lots of rain, lots of humidity, very cool and then very hot. It’s definitely putting me in mind of fall. The garden is feeling it too, I think. The tomatoes aren’t producing as well, the Asian pear is loaded with green fruit, the two butternut squashes are hardening, the herbs are all going to seed. (Except the parsley bed, which is lush as ever. I wonder how well parsley freezes.) The two pepper plants are growing new fruits, trying to prove that they aren’t a complete waste of space, I think, but altogether I’m feeling this is a garden on the wane.
I may or may not get some brassicas in the fall, or spinach and lettuce–I need to plant more seeds; the others were overrun by the nasturtiums. I won’t plant the nasturtiums so heedlessly next year. There are a lot of things I won’t be doing next year–but that’s a post for a cooler month, I think. There will be beans, I hope, until frost, and the squashes, and the herbs. It shouldn’t be a barren fall by any means.
In the next days and weeks I need to get out there with the pruning shears and cut up things to go on the compost pile; dig up the potatoes; plant more seeds; harvest more amaranth for experimentation; put down mulch along the fence line so the weeds aren’t quite as at home; and maybe, finally, put something on the path. I haven’t all year, and except for The Time We Were Away it hasn’t been too much of a problem. And of course there’s the herb garden, the new garden for next year, which needs the plastic removed and some path put down. So much to do, even as the summer is dying. Which sounds good to me.
Eric came down to the kitchen this morning and started laughing. “What?” I demanded.
“The seeds.” He pointed, still laughing. “Look at all the seeds!”
I looked. Okay, there were paper towels, labelled in Sharpie, scattered all over. I’ve been saving seeds from various tomatoes as I cut them up for processing and put them in cups with a little water. Last night I had rinsed them and laid them out to dry: Brandywine, Roma, Cherokee Purple, and F2 cherry. And last night I had also made salsa, so I’d saved seeds from the tomatillo and the jalapenos. (Incidentally, my hands were still burning at bedtime last night. Those things were potent.)
But so what? I joined a seed exchange. I’m expanding my garden next year. I need the seeds.
(I can just see me next spring, begging Eric to let me go to the store for another packet. “I need them, man. Just one more!”)
My first and second attempts at dyeing with my dying amaranth are up here. Poor plants. Two of them are still whole; the others have twisted broken stems and I must continue my dyeing trials soon before they die completely. Otherwise, not much is going on (other than having for dinner last night a cantaloupe from the garden, tabbouleh that barely made a dent in the parsley bed, and Genie’s rosemary-artichoke hummus). How could it? It’s been raining for days. A cucumber plant appears to be kicking the bucket, the potatoes are yellowing, the few puny onions I dug up are undoubtedly waterlogged. At least my spilanthes are starting to flower (the cosmos aren’t). When the rain stops I will attempt to garden again. Until then, it’s cooking and taking care of the inside of the house (for a change) for me.
More tomato processing yesterday. Specifically, chopping up three quart bags’ worth of red tomatoes and filling two ice cube trays with juice. I’ve still got yellow pasta sauce to make, Romas to dry, and cherries to freeze. From the looks of my freezer, my next batch of tomatoes will need to be canned if I’m going to keep them.
“You should grow grape tomatoes next year,” Eric said the other day, selecting a cherry tomato from the small bowl I had placed that day’s harvest in. “They taste better.”
“You like cherry tomatoes?” I said in surprise. I know he likes them on salad, but I had never seen him popping them like candy the way he was right then.
“Yeah, of course.”
“Then why haven’t you been eating them?”
“Because I didn’t know you had that many until I saw them today.”
Today. When I’ve been picking them for weeks. I have a big bag of frozen cherries in the freezer because we weren’t eating enough salad to sustain them.
But I went to look for grape tomato seeds online and found that they’re apparently mainly a hybrid, or anyway the main variety, Santa, is, so I can’t simply save seeds from the tomatoes at the store. (I wouldn’t like buying tomatoes at the store in August anyway.) I’ll keep poking around and see what I can find. I’m more than pleased to adjust my plant planning so that Eric will eat more out of the garden.
I’m not so sure about his advice that I should plant fewer tomatoes next year, though. Sure, they’re a big mess–and I’m having a hard time keeping up–but I know I’ll use them all this winter. And besides, there are lots of other varieties that I need to try.
Eric suggested last night that we try replacing the lawn with clover. We’ve discussed taking out the lawn before but in previous discussions, it always required me putting in more garden and therefore doing more work. “It would never need mowing,” he said.
“It would attract bees and butterflies,” I said, thinking it over.
“It would be softer than grass,” he said. “The only problem would be keeping it watered. Because unlike grass, it wouldn’t come back.”
“That could be a problem,” I said.
“I’d take care of the watering,” he said. “Maybe we’ll try it in the back, first? To see if it works?”
Up until then I figured we were talking about some hypothetical next house that we’ll settle into eventually, perhaps in our old age. But I think he means it. Perhaps not; my husband can be a bit dilatory when it comes to starting nonessential projects like this. But if he does, where’s he going to get his exercise?