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I invited my stepsister-in-law over yesterday, via her mother, to help harvest potatoes and pick pears. She didn’t show up at the appointed time; half an hour later, as I was vacuuming, she knocked on my door. “Hi, Jenny!” she said. “We got home not long after you called to invite me over, but I totally forgot about it and went to play with Paxton instead. Then I remembered, so I thought I’d come over to help if you needed me, and I thought I’d bring Paxton too.”

I let her off of potato duty, of course, but gave each of the girls a plastic sack and basic instructions on how to pick pears (yellow rather than green, dark means rotten, watch out for falling fruit when they tug too hard, etc.). They enjoyed themselves–Paxton had never tried an Asian pear but Michelle assured her that she would love them and she needed to take the twelve she’d picked home with her–and after they left I dug the potatoes myself. I’m both chuffed and a little ashamed to say that I have the same amount of French Fingerling potatoes as All-Blues, around six pounds, even though I planted one pound of French Fingerlings and three pounds of All-Blues. Also the French Fingerlings are, on average, bigger. Maybe I’ll blame the potato variety rather than my own skills.

I picked tomatoes while the girls picked pears, and heard Paxton say, “If my dad had a big garden like this, he wouldn’t take care of it.” I found this hilarious, considering that both girls were at that moment standing in soft patches of gone-to-seed weeds.

“Hey, Jenny, here’s a pepper or something,” Michelle said, pointing to a ripe Zapotec Pleated as she made her way around the Asian pear tree.

“It’s a tomato,” I said, coming to pick it.

“It’s not like any tomato I’ve ever seen,” she said doubtfully, examining it.

“Are those supposed to be corn?” Paxton said, catching sight of my brown corn patch, which I’ve left in place since harvest because (a) there’s a Stella Blue Hokkaido plant clambering around in it with at least one good squash and (b) I’m lazy and will clean up the garden all at once, when it’s cold.

“They were,” I said. “Now they’re dried stalks.”

“Last season she grew sunflowers that were taller than the garage,” Michelle said. “As big as that branch there. Jenny, weren’t they as tall as that branch?”

We discussed how tall sunflowers can get, and whether pears make a good cobbler. “Didn’t you pick any pears?” Michelle said as we hopped over the fence and headed out of the backyard. “Or do you already have enough?”

I looked at her as if she were crazy. They’d both picked a good sackful, but there’s plenty of fruit left on both trees. For one thing, I’m taller than either of them. “I own the trees.”

“Oh yeah,” she said, and she and Paxton scampered off, sacks in hand, to play some more and introduce Paxton to the taste of an Asian pear.

I’m not sure whether I’ll get any cotton this year; the plants are still going strong, looking a lot like miniature maple trees, with fat seed buds:

But they’re not getting a lot bigger, and it’s not as warm as I know they’d like it anymore. So I’m watching and waiting.

I eat most of my fruit with one hand, while I’m doing other things: reading at work, putting away dishes, reading at home. Oranges take two hands to peel but one to eat. A few fruits take two hands, and I don’t eat them often because I don’t want to spare the time, the attention, the extra hand. Grapefruit is one; I used to eat halves with a spoon but now I only ever handle them the way my mom did when I was small: peel away the tough peel, split the globe into halves, pull the delicate inner skin away from the sour flesh and either put pieces of it into a bowl or eat it straight off the pith. Asian pears are another. It’s their time of the year and our tree did well, so for the only month or so of the year I have as many as I want. It’s possible to eat them like a regular pear, but the skin is tough and fibrous, and it gets in the way of the taste. So I peel them.

I had one for breakfast today (after a paratha–it was an unconventional breakfast because we had no potatoes, no eggs, and no bread in the house), sitting at my desk chair while Eric shopped for Zen alarm clocks, a bowl of peel in my lap, a paring knife in my hand. I peel the skin off in thin strips, then cut into the white body of the fruit (Moby Dick-like, only more appealing), slipping pieces into my mouth to crunch and catch the juice. It’s a very slow way to eat a piece of fruit. I’m a fast eater, and I don’t generally like to devote a lot of time to the actual consumption of food, though I don’t mind spending time preparing it. But it does make me value the food more: I’m not distracted by the book I’m reading, or other things in the room, or other food on my plate. I give my attention to the way the flesh gives way under the knife, the grainy texture in my mouth, the suddenly abundant juice when I bite. It’s me and the fruit, each consuming the other.

My trade post is up. Where’s yours? Trade seeds with me!

I ended my parsley-seed-harvesting season today. It won; it was definitely a war, to switch metaphors, of attrition. I snipped and snipped and snipped florets and finally pulled all the plants out, leaving the strawberry patch with only, for the first time, strawberries in it. And one dill plant that’s only just now going to flower. And weeds.

I have 173 grams of seed, or just over six ounces. I think this was six plants. I wasn’t very careful with the harvesting, either; the FSM only knows how many volunteers I’m going to get. There are fistfuls of tiny sprouts in the strawberry patch now; I don’t know if they’re parsley or dill or weeds, but if they’re either of the first two, God help me if I don’t have the heart to pull out every single one.

I also have two Mammoth sunflower heads drying in my dining room. The seed of neither is pure, since I planted three or four different kinds of sunflowers this year (and loved them! Only next year I must remember to plant them deeper, or maybe stake them), but it should still be good for eating. I think I only accomplished this because they were both in hangdog position after some storms and so the birds hadn’t found them yet. I’m not a huge fan of sunflower seeds, but my dad is, so this is a definite victory.

There was no stepsister-in-law availability this weekend. I did dig up the All-Blues, for a disappointing harvest, though in all fairness I may have missed half of them because they’re darned hard to see in the dirt. This week I’ll dig up the French Fingerlings, though I’m not expecting to find a lot of those either. I suspect I need work as a potato farmer. “It’s okay,” Eric told me. “You don’t have any Irish in you.” Great. Maybe I should be growing rice and rye instead.

What I do have a lot of is seeds. I’m not getting any out of my squash this year, and the lemon basil is at last turning brown, so I think I’m getting to the end of my seed-collecting. I’m pleased I have so many (especially with the financial news lately); I’ve fulfilled that part of the Growing Challenge as well, though not the bit about hand-pollinating. Maybe next year. I’m starting to scrape seeds into bags and label them, and I think it’s time to post in the Gardenbloggers Seed Exchange again. Seed trading season! I think I’m going to learn to look forward to this almost as much as the growing season. Maybe more: trading is easier.

Did I mention I have a lot of dill seeds? I have a lot of dill seeds. They’re all removed from the plant now, sitting quietly in a bowl (filling up the bowl), but when I removed them from the garden they were all exploding out from their parent plants like a star gone supernova, blasting away from their birthplace to unknown faraway destinations.

This shall be a long, long post, I can tell. I don’t often rant, but this hits me in three of my tender spots: as a gardener, a writer, and an intelligent and literate person. I got this…thing in the mail the other day. I’m pretty sure more experienced gardeners would have known to throw it away once they saw the name–Jerry Baker–at the top, but I’m still pretty new to this, especially the literature, and I picked it up. It provided half an hour’s amusement for Eric and me, but now it’s haunting me, like the memory of a grisly book or movie that passed my tolerance levels on gore, and I must disgorge it to have any peace. I’m hoping to bribe my stepsister-in-law with Asian pears (we have a good crop, and she discovered a passion for them last year) to help me dig up the potatoes I’ve neglected, so maybe there will something less vitriolic over the weekend.

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We’ve had a good carrot crop so far and have been delighted as usual with the flavor (except that the purple ones have less of it). There are still plenty in the ground, awaiting frost. Earlier in the summer I started pulling a few carrots at a time and putting them in a bag in the fridge, to be handy when we wanted them. Then we hit tomato season, and we’ve barely touched the carrot bag in almost two months.

I pulled out the bag the other day for peanut-sesame noodles with cucumber and peppers, which also includes grated carrot (and is extremely tasty). And found that the carroty flavor had faded, leaving mainly some crunchy sweetness and not a lot else. In short: I had grocery-store carrots on my hands. I could discern the actual carrot taste, but it was faint.

It took two months to happen, though. So how long do grocery-store carrots sit before they’re purchased?

“How’s your garden?” the neighbor called to me over our mutually weedy dividing fence.

“A big mess,” I called back, “because I haven’t done anything with it in two months. How’s yours?”

“About the same,” he said, gesturing to the strip by the fence where I know his tomatoes are, but I can’t see them because my anise hyssop, Garden Peach tomato, cotton, hollyhock, spare bag of gravel, and tangles of bindweed are in the way. “I’m just picking tomatoes and peppers and not doing much else.” His peppers are in the front, very pretty and productive. Why are my peppers always spindly and pathetic? I guess two years is too soon to say always. “And it’s about the end of the season for tomatoes. But that’s okay; it’ll get cleaned up pretty soon.”

“And there’s always next year,” I said, thinking: it is the end of the season, isn’t it? Temperatures are getting down to the 40s at night, and blight has spread (and my stakes are all falling over, especially after the tropical-storm-remnant rains). I didn’t get nearly as many tomatoes and green beans as I wanted, didn’t get any eggplants at all, but it’s too late now. And it will be a relief to clean up the garden, after the hectic growth and verdure of summer. Some plants, the greens and roots and perennial herbs, will remain, but for the most part this year’s efforts, successes and failures alike, will be swept aside, to begin anew in six months. Face it: summer’s over.

“There’s always next year!” he echoed, cheerily; and he went back to picking tomatoes and I turned inside, pears and green onions cradled in my hands.

I have (okay, Eric has) finally coaxed the computer to believe that I have a camera plugged in. Hallelujah! Once I’ve rescued my pictures from the old hard drive, I’ll rest easy. Easier.

This weekend we had gazpacho, lemon-poppyseed muffins, and pumpernickel bread pretty much all weekend. But last weekend we had broccoli. Home-grown broccoli. My first.

There’s one Growing Challenge challenge down. It was smaller than I hoped and it took all year to grow, but I have now successfully grown a brassica. It was delicious.

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

Marion Zimmer Bradley

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