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Two more tomato plants for the garden from the farmer’s market: Black Krim and Yellow Pear, the latter placed at the corner for the best access for small hands and short arms. They’re big beautiful plants, which my seedlings were not, but now that they’re all in the ground the difference is rapidly disappearing. I love it when nature makes up for my mistakes.

Chloe and I went into the garden yesterday to eat a blueberry popsicle. Well, we went outside to eat the popsicle; we went to the garden to “tee if any tawberried are twipe” (she has yet to master Ss). The slugs have been industrious and I haven’t replaced my Sluggo yet, so she’s been disappointed in a couple of ripe berries and was willing to try anything that looked even a little bit red. It turns out that half-ripe garden strawberries are slightly tart but still full of tangy flavor.

The pea trellis is crawling with life, so we tried a few peas, too. She loved these. She likes peas to begin with, and will eat frozen peas and corn for lunch (sometimes heated up, sometimes still frozen), but these were clearly a different experience. She delighted in receiving the two halves of the pod I split open for her–“like a butterfly” and picking out the peas, one by one. She gave me slightly less than half, which I thought was pretty generous.

We’ve got a few corn stalks coming up, which she also wanted to eat until I told her they weren’t the same as the corn on the cob we’ve had a couple of nights in the past couple of weeks. (Can’t she tell the difference? When I point out the seedling that look like a fatter grass, and is quite clearly not a plump cob full of sweet kernels? Toddlers are strange.) The squash and peppers and eggplant are doing okay, for now at least. I’ve got a bunch of what looks like cucumber volunteers coming up among the tomatoes. I don’t know what they’re from. Compost, I guess. What cucumbers did I grow two years ago? Do I want to keep them? I have a hard time pulling them out, when you buy them for $2 each at the local nursery, but they can’t stay and crowd my tomatoes, either. I moved one to a better spot and we’ll see how it grows.

I’ve also got some volunteer dill among the weeds that are slated for later slaughter, and some Hopi Red Dye amaranth. I love that that’s still popping up here and there. Also some tomato volunteers in the side garden, but they’re getting pulled out when I get a chance because as I recall they were awful in previous years.

And the beans and greens and carrots and roots are growing well–as are the weeds, but let’s ignore that for now–and I’m pleased with what I’ve wrought so far, even if I fear for the summer. And staying out late in the garden picking half-ripe strawberries and half-grown peas for my girl was just what I felt that garden is for.

Tomatoes are in. It’s a little early, but the forecast looks good and they’ve grown as much as they’re going to in the little seed-starting tray (and I’ve faced the fact I’m not going to pot them up). They’re small, but I have hopes.

Chloë helped me plant them. We did transplant the garlic and plant a bunch of roots and greens; I thought I’d written about that but evidently not. And we’ve been going out for some extremely minor weeding, though sickness and a tricycle have prevented us from doing much lately besides. She has a great time digging around with the little spade she got for Easter, and continually asks me to dig for worms. When I find one, she accepts it in her hand with delight and coos at it for about three seconds. Then she puts it carefully down in the hole and asks me to find another one. I’m glad she treats them well but it doesn’t leave me a lot of time to do my actual digging.

But we put up posts and I dug nine holes for the nine tomatoes I’d originally started, forgetting that two didn’t come up (my trades, darn it). I put some compost in each hole and planted the tomatoes carefully, burying them deep to encourage root growth. “I want to bury a pot,” Chloë announced, so I gave her one of the ones that didn’t come up and helped her make a little hole for it. The tomatoes I planted, winding around starting from the top right: Amish Paste, Arkansas Traveller, Brown Berry, Italian Market Wonder, Jelly Bean, Persimmon, Tiger-Like. (Why yes, that’s alphabetical order. I didn’t write it down, except here just now, so I had to have some way of remembering for later in the season. My flags are already faded.) I’ll buy two more at the farmer’s market next week to fill up the empty holes. Also some sweet peppers; the only ones of mine that came up are hots.

We got called in for dinner at Jelly Bean, so I didn’t get to plant squash or put dry beans around the poles or water. It was supposed to rain and I was hungry, so I trusted to luck. “I hope it rains,” I told Chloë as we went in. “That way the tomatoes will get water.”

This morning it was thunderstorming. “It’s raining!” Chloë announced, running to the window to watch the downpour. “The rain will be good for our plants to grow!”

The weather was unseasonably beautiful today, and Chloë and I went out to the garden. She was mesmerized by the worms I dug up while clearing out the path (to be filled with wood chips in a week and a half, I hope), and wanted her own shovel to help me dig. She tried to help me dig up and smooth down the new bed, and was delighted to plant peas in the holes I made with my gloved finger. “Can you hold these for me?” she said excitedly, shoving the extra seed packets I’d handed her so she could properly hold the peas and drop them, one at a time, into the designated holes. We planted Alaska peas and Golden Sweets and some Christmas lima beans, and then a row of carrots. “See, these seeds are little,” I explained, over her “Can I do that?” which I heard no more than, oh, seventeen times while we were out. “You pinch some and sprinkle them in this row, like this.” I let her try. She didn’t do too badly. She was thrilled when I let her use the spade to cover them up afterward, and sorry when I said it was time to go inside.

But we’ve got wonders inside, too: the onions and leeks and cotton that she helped plant. (Plus a tester pea and bean plant to see if I’ve got rabbits and if they’re going to bother that bed; if they are, then I’ll go get netting in the next couple of days.) “Way-ow,” she breathed, seeing the shoots popping out of the little Jiffy pots. And then, “Can I have one?” So I let her eat a shoot. We should have planted more.

Chloe among the seedlings

Meet my garden helpers, Chloë and Maia:

The girls

I’m sure they will be immensely helpful in the garden. Someday.

In the meantime: hello, gardening world, I’m back! Infrequently, probably, though my current plan involves scheduling gardening time at least twice a week so I can be sure to (a) get things planted and picked at least, and if possible tended as well, and (b) get the girls (and me) outside, especially Chloë. We’ll see how that goes.

While I’ve been gone gestating and raising an infant, the USDA decided to sneak in a new zone map. I am now in zone 6. Hurrah! Not that this changes anything, but it makes me feel better about getting my seeds started and plants planted earlier than conventional zone-based wisdom has dictated. I’m not comfortable following my instincts. I like to be following the rules instead. (Pay no attention to the lack of tilling, weeding, proper support, soil testing, etc. previously recorded here…)

So Chloë and I have planted a few early seeds, mainly the ones I’m not sure are actually going to germinate–onions; leek; cotton; old kale, komatsuna, and choy sum; and some flowers. Some were “winter sown” (though I’m not sure that term actually applies with the mildness of the winter and the lateness of the date) and some started in Jiffy pots and put in the window. Chloë was intrigued by the process, particularly the “sprinkle seeds on the dirt” and “mix the dirt and seeds around with your fingers” bits, and when I came home today with more seeds immediately wanted to plant again. I sure hope some of the ones in the window sprout.

Today’s seeds are from the Toledo Botanical Garden (actually Toledo GROWS, I think) Seed Swap, which was a hell of a thing. In previous years it was at the actual Toledo Botanical Garden and was fairly crowded, but this year it was at the Erie Street Market and it was a mob scene. They took a large room, and had a whole section just for kids to pet bunnies and look at chickens; there were the usual tables for corn, roots, greens, cucurbits, flowers, etc., plus some displays on native flowers and rain gardens and such; and there was also a corner for garden-related stuff for classrooms (I loved the straw-and-Saran-Wrap greenhouse and the five-plastic-bottle-and-rope seed starter with central water reservoir); a table of seed bombs; dozens of displays; tables from commercial farms, nurseries, and other less relevant businesses from the area; a silent auction; and probably more that I didn’t catch because I thought I was just going to pick up a few seeds among a few gardeners, not fight my way among half the city.

The place was packed. I got there about forty-five minutes in (because I’d had to get the kids to naps first, and then get a bag of apples from the farmer’s market and a new 9×13 pan from the Libbey Outlet) and the tables were two and three people deep, except for the legumes table where they’d run out of green beans. This was something I’d come for, but by the time I was getting ready to go later donations had shown up and I got some Chinese beans, which should be interesting, and some cowpeas. And I think I’ve got some Kentucky Wonders on the windowsill and I’ve still got Trionfo Violettos from a number of different recent years, so I think I’m fine. And I got some cucumbers and more carrots and a lettuce, which was all I’d really come for, plus some other interesting-looking stuff because why not? and I needed the crush of people to be worth it. I did recommend Russian Red kale to someone, and help someone else by pointing out the purple kohlrabi, and maybe the seeds I donated ended up with people who’ll use and enjoy them.

Last year was a washout on gardening, by the by. I planted five tomato plants in pots, plus some green beans and some basil. The basil did fine, and we got a small number of grape tomatoes. But tomatoes in pots are clearly not a good idea without more care than I put into them–though cleanup was great. I did get the gardens covered in plastic to kill the weeds–and by “I got” I mean “Dad did it while he was here for Maia’s birth”–but only got one uncovered last fall, so there’s plenty of prep work to do once it decides to stop snowing/slushing/being ridiculously windy.

In summary: hello again! I’m going to be gardening this year. Some. With the dubious help of a toddler at times. (I’m considering growing a Mammoth sunflower “fort” for her.) Watch this space. But not with any assiduity or you’ll probably be disappointed. But believe that I’m glad to be back.

 

Er, you weren’t expecting anything from me, were you?

The garden has been, um, there. We’ve gotten some tomatoes, most of which went immediately into Chloe’s mouth. I picked two the other day. She pointed and whined, so I handed her one. She ate it like an apple, stem and all. She pointed to the other one. I destemmed that one and handed it over, and she ate it as well. She loves it when dinner includes a fine heirloom tomato, chopped up just for her. She doesn’t especially like the ones you get on sandwiches and burgers in restaurants, so clearly she inherited some good taste.

But yeah. Some tomatoes, some peppers–I finally grew Alma paprikas this year–some herbs, a couple of scallions, a few green beans before the teepee fell over. Three carrots and a solitary beet. A lot of raspberries and parsnips. There are probably still potatoes down there somewhere. But mostly, the garden is a wreck. This gardening-with-a-small-child idea is just not practicable, not for me. And next year is going to be even worse, because I’m doing it all over again next spring. 

So I’m closing down the garden. I’ve been slowly making last harvests and pulling down stakes, and I’m going to move the few herbs and flowers I really want to keep (the cannas I planted way back when have just started coming up; doesn’t that figure?). Then I’m going to pull everything down, cover it with compost and black plastic, and let it sleep for a year. It makes me sad to do, but looking at the weed-encrusted rotting shadow of what a garden should be makes me sad, too, and I’m just plain not going to have the time or energy–if I didn’t with one baby, I certainly won’t with two, and first-trimester symptoms are even worse this time than last.

So next year will be a year without a garden, even if we sell the house, which we’re still trying to do. I’ll grow a few things in pots; I think I can manage that much, and Chloe’s appetite demands at least one or two tomato plants. But otherwise I’m closing down shop.

Which means I’m closing down the blog, too. I may come back to it, if I feel like writing and feel I have something to write about, but I’m also working on other projects, and my energy is wearing thin these days, so for now, I’m putting it into hibernation with the garden. Good gardening, everyone! Plant a seed for me.

I chopped up Persimmon and Amish Paste tomatoes yesterday for ratatouille-of-sorts (no zucchini, but yes pearl couscous) and fed bits to Chloe. She ate them like candy, or like she would eat candy if she were allowed to. She got her onesie all stained with pink and orange. I didn’t like the onesie anyway, so I wasn’t bothered. I don’t think I would have been anyway.

So the tomatoes are producing, yes. Mostly the Amish Pastes and a smallish not-quite-cherry that I don’t know the name of. I don’t remember what I planted where, and I’ve given up trying. I have a couple of Alma Paprika peppers, one yellow and one pink, and some other unidentified peppers that I thought were jalapenos but aren’t, which was disappointing when I wanted to make salsa last night. (However, my mother-in-law can probably be convinced to part with some.) There are no beans yet, but lots of bean flowers. Likewise with the zucchini. (I planted them both late.) There is plentiful basil and sage, and beautiful raspberries and peaches. That’s about it, but I’m okay with it. At least I’m getting something. The days are hot and wet and full of mosquitoes, and the garden is, of course, full of weeds (though I did a quick emergency job on part of it when we had a house showing, and I’m trying to make time this week to go out with either boiling water or Round-Up to get more), and it’s the part of summer I really don’t like. Except for the eating part.

As someone at work said today, I’m famous!

Check it out.

(Actually, it’s Chloe who’s famous. She’s the reason I got into the feature.)

Chloe and I have been eating raspberries off the bush for several days now. They’re planted along the little fence between the back door and the garage, some red, some golden. The golden ones are milder and sweeter, and also ripened first. At first there were just a few, and I’d have one and give Chloe the rest. Then it was one for her, one for me. Now she gets the golden ones and I get the red ones, and if there are enough left over I bring some inside for Eric. The raspberry season is young; I think there’s going to be plenty for Eric.

This is exactly how raspberries should be eaten. We had a patch when I was growing up, and Dad would send my brother and me outside with a four-quart bowl. “Pick raspberries,” he said. “Watch out for the bees.” We watched. We picked. We filled up the bowl, besides eating some ourselves. That’s what raspberry picking should be like: bounteous plenty, with a red-stained mouth, and the prospect of more every day. The state of almost being tired of raspberries, only you can’t because they’re raspberries. I’m so glad my raspberries are finally grown up the way they’re supposed to be, and I’m so glad I’m sharing it with Chloe, even if she’s too young to remember right now. Wherever we live, we’ll have raspberry patches just like this.

Okay, it’s not sickness that’s keeping me from posting, it’s lack of time. For the past two weeks I’ve been working on a baby quilt for a shower on Sunday (it looks like I’m going to make it, too, if nothing serious comes up to prevent me from working on it at night), plus the usual routine, plus getting ready to sell the house. Bah. The garden itself isn’t getting neglected…or not extremely…just the posting.

So, an update. The tomatoes and peppers and eggplant and leeks are in the garden. The melons and squash and cucumbers are not. The basil and parsley and celery and chamomile and cilantro and savory are in the herb garden. The parsley disappeared the day after I planted it, so completely that I wondered if I had really planted it or just thought I did. But it was right by the chamomile and the chamomile’s still there. What would make parsley disappear? I don’t know. But I need to replant it. I also need to replant carrots; it’s getting awfully late but there are only two or three in what is now the parsnip bed, and carrots are important. And plant beans and corn. And weed, always weed.

I’ve also got a lot of empty space where I got rid of the lemon balm and wormwood (because the lemon balm drops baby balms all over the garden, and the wormwood exploded into five-foot-tall behemoths for flowering, which is a shame since it was so pretty and tame the first year). I think it’s time to take a trip to a nursery for some plants to fill in.

And last night a photographer from the Toledo Blade came by to take a picture of Chloe and me in the garden. I’m going to be part of a series on local gardeners, and I’m representing the “mom with young children” gardener demographic, so Chloe was my prop. Or maybe I was hers. She hasn’t been particularly cooperative with my camera, but she loved the photographer’s and was very cooperative, and of course extremely cute.

After the photographer left I went back to the garden to get some things for my first garden food of the year. This year it was komatsuna and chives. Chloe likes chives, it turns out. Definitely my daughter. I used them both in a noodle stirfry. The komatsuna is indeed a nice spinach replacement, except for being a favorite of the bugs, judging by their state when I picked them. I planted them where the kale is as a fill-in until the kale gets bigger, and that’s starting to happen, so they won’t last long in any case. If the bugs leave me enough they’ll not last long because I’ll eat them up.

So people keep telling me that I can take Chloe out into the yard with me if I just put her on a blanket with some toys. To which I reply, have you seen this girl move now that she’s figured out crawling? She’ll be across the yard munching on the sweet woodruff before I get my kneeling pad in position.

But yesterday was beautiful and I had things to plant and Eric was in bed recovering from a cold, so I decided to at least give it a try. And what do you know, it worked! Maybe only that one time, since I think she sat still because there were so many new and interesting things to look at all around her, but it worked. She sat and played with her butterfly while I planted lettuce.

Then I noticed some brown straw sticking out of her mouth. “Don’t eat that,” I told her, pulling it out of her mouth and casting about for something to replace it. I picked a sorrel leaf, a parsley leaf, and then, with some hesitation, a bit of an onion leaf. I figured that if she ate it, maybe she would learn not to chew on random things in the garden, which is a valuable lesson until I can teach her what things are edible and what things aren’t.

I put the leaves in her lap and watched as she picked up the onion. I winced a bit, thinking myself a terrible mother, as it moved inexorably into her mouth. I waited while she munched. Then waited some more as more of it disappeared. She finished it and looked up to me as if for more.

“Huh,” I said, and picked some more. I tasted it myself before handing it down, and it was actually very mild, maybe because these are second-year Candy onions. But it still had some onion flavor and bite, and I was impressed. I went back to planting and got marigolds and scallions in while she finished the onion and worked on the parsley. She seemed to like that, too (more than the avocado I fed her at dinner). This kid is totally my daughter.

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

Marion Zimmer Bradley

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