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“Why is dinner so difficult?!” I exclaimed, throwing my hands in the air.

“It’s not difficult,” Eric said, eyeing me warily.

“It is! It’s like one of those true/false logic problems: ‘Statement 2 is false. Statement 1 is true.’ You keep saying you’ll eat this, but only if I do, and I only want it to get you to eat it, and–“

“It’s perfectly simple,” Eric interrupted. “You said you have to pick beans. Are there enough for two portions?”

“I have no idea, I haven’t picked them yet,” I growled. “Let’s say yes.”

“Okay. Then we’ll both have green beans. You said you wanted to eat those last red potatoes, so you’ll have those. I’ll have the last of my egg rolls.”

“I need to pick squash too,” I said. “I could saute that. With basil.”

“Then you’ll have squash too. You see how easy that was?”

I picked two more zucchini and a bunch of herb tops for dinner tonight. Man, I love cooking with fresh herbs. I was delighted to discover that my cilantro hasn’t bolted as much as I figured it had; there were a few flowers, but also plenty of usable leaves still. The basil, on the other hand, looks terrible. Possibly that’s due to the monstrosity of lemon balm and wormwood overshadowing it.

I had Eric come out in the garden with me yesterday, and he hacked down the wormwood and picked raspberries (trampling my onions in the doing, but it’s my own fault as I didn’t think to warn him about them) and cucumbers while I weeded the parsley patch and picked enough for the season’s first tabbouleh. He was impressed by the sheer height of the weeds in the garden, but wisely did not mention this after his first involuntary exclamation. He was also, I think, impressed by the beans, and so was I; they’re doing wonderfully, even with the pathetic excuse for a support I rigged up for them. He was disappointed to hear that the tomatoes are not optimally poised for a bumper crop this year, since he’s craving gazpacho, but it’s not tomato-ripening time this year anyway.

We experimented with some sweet relish yesterday–he wanted to try a bare-bones recipe, so we made a very small, simple batch that’s sitting in a jar now, awaiting tasting–and we’re making pickles tomorrow with the several pounds of cucumbers sitting in the fridge.  I pulled up a couple of garlic bulbs to see whether we ought to buy some. They look good, but small, so we’ll be buying some. That’s okay. I’ll use them in a marinated spinach salad or a sharp stirfry. I love the summer eating season.

“My lemon tree is a mutant,” I told Eric the other day. “It’s growing spikes.”

“Spikes?” he said blankly.

“Thorns,” I corrected myself. “And Meyer lemons don’t have thorns. Maybe it decided to grow them to ward off the bugs after its experience last year.”

“Maybe,” he said, with the skepticism of two science degrees and a certificate in education.

I know, of course, that it did no such thing. I assume that when I cut it down to get rid of the scale, I cut down to whatever it was grafted to, and what I have is not actually a Meyer lemon anymore. I don’t know what exactly I do have, but it’s still citrus-looking, and it’s healthy, so I’ll see what turns up.

This tree has caused me more problems, though. It’s the one that introduced scale into my house, and that scale has jumped over to my papyrus. I’d just reconcile myself to losing a plant except that that’s our wedding papyrus, and I’ve kept it alive for two years and I wanted to keep it a lot longer, but the main thing I know about scale is that it was impossible to clean up from the lemon (whatever) tree.

I’ve been trimming the papyrus as I’ve found scale on it, but now it’s down to a single stalk, and it has scale too, and I don’t know that the plant will come back if I cut off this last bit. I’ve scraped off all the mature scale I could spot; I wiped off the tiny, tiny immature ones I also found marching down the stem; I’m going to watch it vigilantly and hope that maybe, against the odds, I can completely eradicate this damned pest.

I went out to weed the carrot patch yesterday. (Yes, I said I’d do it over the weekend. I didn’t.) I dressed properly and ignored distractions, like the weeds everywhere else, and got to work. Since the weeds were as tall as the carrots, and more numerous, it was painstaking work. Focusing on the stalks just above the ground seemed most efficient, but a lot of stalks don’t look all that different from each other. (Thank you, clover, for being reddish just above the dirt.) I got through about two-thirds of the patch–thinning as I went–before the mosquitos found my face and I decided it was time to go in.

I know I keep going back and forth about my garden this year. This little weeding session tipped me back toward despair again, mainly because it took so much work for such a little space and the carrots, naturally enough, don’t look very big. I think my current plan is this: harvest what’s growing; weed when I get to it; don’t worry too much if I don’t get to it; buy a lot of black plastic and whenever a patch is cleared, cover it up for the rest of the year so that I don’t have to worry about that plot of land anymore. I’ll be doing that with the garlic patch soon; they’re turning brown and are also, of course, overrun by weeds. (Oh, part of the plan will be “dig for potatoes before covering with plastic.” The actual potato plot isn’t looking too healthy but everywhere the potatoes are weeds, they look great.) I’ll probably be doing it with bolted lettuce and sorrel and rocket, though I’ll need to be careful since the parsnips and beets are right there.

I think I’m also going to cut back the wormwood and elecampane now–again, assuming that I get to it. They’re at the outside borders of the herb garden and blocking the paths; I hadn’t realized either one would get quite this large in their second year. I’ll save one each for seeds and curiosity–the elecampane is flowering, which I can see best from the second-story window, but the wormwood isn’t–and regain some walking space. Also, the parsley patch is next on the weeding list, and it’s right below the elecampane, and I care more about tabbouleh than decoration or even dye. (Elecampane roots are supposed to yield a blue dye when mordanted with wood ash. I’ll harvest the roots and find out sometime.)

I ate my first garden zucchini last night. It’s a “Yellow Zucchini,” the one from the nursery. I breaded and fried it, which I suppose isn’t the healthiest way ever to eat a vegetable, but it was exceedingly yummy and I regret nothing. It has many small siblings on the plant, so I can be healthy later.

There is a luscious green Buran pepper in the garden that I intend to use for either sweet relish or fried rice, depending on which one we decide to make first. I’m a little confused on how the Buran plant, which was one of the small, sad plants I started indoors late and barely got sprouted before I planted it outdoors, has flourished and produced such a beautiful pepper, almost in time with the nursery-grown hot peppers, in the midst of untied-up tomatoes and weeds. Especially since last year I started them on time and fertilized them and kept them relatively weed-free with plenty of space, and got small stunted peppers that were barely worth mentioning (if in fact I did mention them). I should definitely save seeds from this plant if more beautiful fruits appear. I bet I could get rich from the seeds of a vegetable that thrives on neglect–or at least save a lot on my grocery bills.

Nine cucumbers. Four of them are too big to be any good. This is what happens when you don’t go into the garden for a week, of course. Ah well. We’re going to slice up a couple of them today for dinner and maybe try making a test batch of sweet relish with the others.

There are a couple of baby tomatoes out there, and some purple Black Mitla bean flowers, and plenty of spring-green Inferno peppers, and bees on the leek flowers. I can still see the carrots between the weeds in the carrot patch. (I’m going to try weeding it tomorrow. Today we have to make macaroni salad and go buy corn and pectin and bring everything plus a bag of potatoes and those cucumbers over to my mother-in-law’s.) It’s not so bad out there, really. And hey, even if it is, I’ve got cucumbers to eat, the freshest it’s possible to get them, and that’s a happy thing.

Happy Independence Day!

A few months ago we went to a science fiction convention called Penguicon, and while we were there we went out to lunch with a friend of ours whom we only ever see at conventions. He chose a Middle Eastern restaurant called the Beirut (they had excellent tabbouleh) and ordered orange juice with his meal. “I think it’s fresh-squeezed,” he said while we were waiting for our food. “It’s certainly priced that way.” Our drinks came. He tasted his, got a blissful expression on his face, and said, “It’s fresh-squeezed!” and did a little dance in his seat. “And it comes with a happy dance!”

We laughed, but I completely understood. I pulled the first carrots from the garden yesterday, and they came with a happy dance too. They’re not full-sized carrots yet, but they have full-sized flavor–even though they’re one of the many spots in the garden that I totally neglected after planting and a supplementary watering. No thinning, no weeding, no nothing. I’m over my despair (for now) and going to attempt to weed a bit this weekend. I’m not deluded enough to think that I’ll get on top of the weeding, but I can at least make it more likely that the vegetables will grow me some more happy dances before they succumb. (Also, being on my hands and knees is supposed to be good for getting labor going, and I’ll be technically full-term in a week.)

Besides, my dad has offered to “take care of” the garden for me when he and mom come out for the birth. Considering that he doesn’t like cucumbers or squash and my mom is still upset with him for spraying Round-Up on a couple of beloved flower bushes in their yard because he thought they looked like weeds, I’m probably better off being able to tell him he needn’t bother.

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

Marion Zimmer Bradley

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