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I went outside after work today to plant some things. The peas are peeking out of the ground in the garage garden (was the “vegetable garden”), and there’s plenty more work to be done over there, but this time I wanted to get started in the side garden (was the “herb garden”). So I went out with my shovel and rake, and a tin of seeds, and the nice gloves Mom bought me, and Chloë, who would have been great fun to have along if she hadn’t spent all her time petrified of the bugs. “I see bugses,” she wailed, when I asked her to come help me sprinkle seeds or hold something. “Mommy can you help me come over there?”

She did get over her fear enough to watch some worms, and even spontaneously pick one up to show me. And she did eventually plant some seeds. We got carrots, two kinds of beets (Ruby Queen and Chioggia), and some rutabaga I got in a recent trade into the ground.

I stopped to curse at some bamboo and raspberry shoots and pull them out of the ground, through the main bed into the side one, where both run rampant, and right through…garlic. I’d planted bulbils (see my header) a couple of years ago, knowing it would take a while to get real garlic out of them. Last year I’d briefly thought about them, but the right time to pull them was just about when I was getting back to work after Maia’s birth and there was no time or inclination there. In the fall I’d even considered planting some, but the beds weren’t ready. But now, it seems I have garlic! It needs transplanting, since there are clusters together–it looks like I could have gotten some good heads last year–and also I plan to do battle with the bamboo and raspberry this year. But I can do that. I’m happy to do that. And then I will have garlic after all. A sudden rainstorm–and the call to dinner–cut short my session, to my disappointment and Chloë’s relief (except that she was upset I wouldn’t let her go look at the peas “in the garden with no bugs”). But next time: transplanting.

Saturday was not ridiculously hot, and while Eric took Chloe shopping, I changed into my jeans and my long shirt and went out into the garden. “At a minimum, I need to tie up the rest of the tomatoes,” I told Eric, “which should take about ten minutes if I don’t get distracted. But I’ll get distracted.”

I did tie up the tomatoes, discovering that one of the plants has almost no leaves and one has an almost-ripe tomato on it. Which is not unreasonable for July, but is kind of unreasonable for my first time tying them up. Yeah. Anyway, they’re up now, and should be doing better. I cleared away the weeds around them and some ones I missed from last time around the peppers and eggplants. I have one Alma paprika pepper growing now. The eggplant plants are small and spindly, but that’s not surprising considering how many weeds they were covered by. 

I decided that the potato patch is a bust. The plants were mostly gone anyway, and the rest covered with bindweed and this one annoying bush of the neighbor’s that keeps coming back, whether they cut it down or I do. (Of course I only cut the parts on my side of the fence.) The onion sets had done their best in the same conditions, but were clearly too tired to struggle on, so I pulled them up. The leeks had disappeared.  

On the other side of the garden, where those beans were supposed to have grown, is now my de facto potato patch, because I planted some there…last year? No, the year before; last year was garlic. Anyway, they came back, and I didn’t pull them out, and there are enough that I might as well leave them, because I’m not getting anything else out of that entire side of the garden.  

So that’s the vegetable garden: tomatoes doing okay, peppers and eggplants behind, volunteer potatoes, and an insanely happy patch of parsnips, some of which think they’re going to flower but they’re sadly mistaken. There will be no more flowering parsnips in my garden, possibly ever.  

Then I moved onto the herb garden. This, too, was choked with weeds, but only in specific places, and was surprisingly easy to clean up. I pulled out approximately 381 volunteer tomato plants. I left one. I know they’re cherries, which I’m not too excited about, but they freeze really well f0r winter cooking and there’s nothing else in that part of the garden anyway. (There’s a theme emerging here.) The two other denizens of that area are leftover candy onions from last year that have flowered: 

 

 And wild onions that Mom transplanted there in April from the driveway and have also flowered: 

 

I’m not too keen on wild onion–they’re kind of tough–but they do grow easily and the look of the seed head may be enough to convince me that they’re worth keeping. How cool is that? They’re Muppet onions!  

The peas are gone; the lettuce is gone; the rocket is gone (well, not gone, but flush with seed pods and intensely bitter). The lemon sorrel, surprisingly, is still doing okay. Maybe it grew too slowly and was choked down by the mass of everything else. It’s now almost all that’s left in the greens bed, that and the kale and a few brassicas.  

On the good side, everything looks lovely now that the weeds are gone (except the ones in the path, and I’m starting to think that it’s Round-Up time for them because they’re the low-lying ones that are impossible to grab in impacted dirt, and that’s the side near the house so I don’t have food plants over there anyway, and…you get my drift). And the new beans and zucchini and basil are doing well. And the sage is very, very happy.  

I put some peas in my pocket for saving for seed–because it never hurts–and cut a bunch of oregano to dry, and laid it on my garden bag. I stood up, and contemplated the raspberries that I thought I had cut down last year. 

Then Eric tapped on the window and indicated that Chloe needed feeding, so I went in. She was kind of scared of me, and I figured it might be because I stank, so I showered and then fed her (she’d had a snack in the meantime but was still much happier with me when I smelled like Mommy and not so much like Dirty Tomato-Streaked Sweat) and we worked on dinner and then it started storming, and I didn’t remember until this morning that my bag was still out there. It’s on the porch now, drying. The oregano should be fine. I don’t know about the seeds that were tucked into the pockets. Chalk up one more casualty to my Weed Once a Year policy. 

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.

The cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, choy sum (oh my gods all the choy sum), rocket, sorrel, and Red Russian kale are in the ground. I’ve been wanting to plant for a week, but first there was rain and then there was an inadvertent two-hour nap and then there was a girls’ night out. But last night, I got my sweatpants and gloves on and headed out.

The vegetable garden is where I dug down to make paths and mounded the beds up. This year’s brassicas bed (sharing with greens and peas) has been getting mounded higher and higher because of the extra dirt I’m moving as I lay the brick path, so I had to dig and rake and smooth it out a bit. Also remove some parsnips from last year that I didn’t bother to harvest because they were so small but seem determined to sprout seed this year. And I’m not letting them. My entire raised bed is full of parsnip seedlings. I’m pretty sure they’re why my carrots and beets aren’t growing; those rows are nothing but parsnips.

I’m pretty pleased with the Jiffy pots and tray. The roots did, in fact, grow through the pot, as they haven’t in past years; but I broke them into pieces anyway, just to be sure. That bed is now full: yesterday’s plantings, plus the peas and a couple of lonely spinach plants. I’m not going to bother trying to replant the spinach that failed to come up because it’s only lasted one or two pickings in the past anyway. I’ll get my spinach from the farmer’s market.

That leaves, I think, two and a half beds in the herb garden free. The garlic, broad beans, onions from last year, and perennial herbs are already in; I have one empty one currently covered by compost, half the turnip bed (which isn’t growing well anyhow, since I didn’t remember to water it early), and one small bed by the fence. Also some space by the perennial herbs, but I already know that’s where the rosemary and dill and cilantro and parsley and basil will go. I’m planning on replanting carrots and beets, in this parsnip-free zone. What else will go in here? Maybe green beans, or dry beans. I’m starting to feel like I know enough about what needs to get planted when that I don’t have to write everything down and plan it out ahead of time, which is a pretty neat feeling. It probably means I’ll end up forgetting to plant something I really really wanted, but them’s the breaks.

I killed eight or nine ants inside the house yesterday. Tiny ones, not like the carpenter ants we had a couple of years ago. Ones exactly like the teeming millions in the herb garden where I thought I destroyed that nest last year. It seems not. Silly me.

So yesterday Eric mixed Twenty Mule Team Borax and sugar and sprinkled it between the nest and the house, per the Internet’s instructions. I’m vaguely worried this will merely draw more pests, but it was on the Internet, so it must be true. <beat>

The peas are growing nicely–well, the Golden Sweets are. A few of the old Pioneers came up, maybe twenty percent. I planted some of the Alaskas I bought several days ago, so I’ve got my backup in place. Some turnips are coming up; some spinach and komatsuna are coming up; weed rocket and sorrel are coming up all over. This is because I let it all go to seed last year and didn’t clean it up. And even though they’re tasty weeds, they’re still technically weeds. Though some landed in a spot that wasn’t already designated for something else, so I could always just pretend I meant to do that…

In the meantime, the choy sum and lettuce inside are growing nicely, and I’m starting to think it’s time to start hardening them off. The tomatoes will need replanting soon, too. And I’ve got five pots on the back porch, all empty, all needing something in them. But what? It’s time to make some decisions.

My pea trellis went up today. Well, one of them. There are going to be two, but Eric was napping and Chloe was sitting in her stroller watching me, and she ran out of yogurt melts. So only one is up–but it should be simple to get the other up and plant peas as soon as I’ve bought some. I have Golden Sweets but I want shelling peas, because Chloe likes them and you can’t buy frozen ones that don’t have salt or sugar or both added.

It was very pleasant to go out and dig up the dirt and see all the worms, though not as pleasant to see all the weed seeds, and to get warm from exercise and anticipate green things growing. It was also very pleasant to finally get a start on the brick path I’ve been meaning to put into the herb garden for over a year now. It means a lot of exercise–as the entire garden this year will–but I can use a lot of exercise.

I feel ambivalent about putting up a pea trellis every year, though. And a bean trellis/tepee. Every year I’ve put them up and the weather and my fall cleanup has torn them down. In a way I’d like to have a permanent structure up, something I don’t have to plan for and rig up every year, something I can just rake around and plant under and be done. But then there’s the whole rotating crops thing, and having the same garden every year would probably get boring anyway. Also, I haven’t built one I like enough to keep up forever.

Inside, my seeds are growing. I did start them, and the rocket, choy sum, marigolds, leeks, scallions, and spinach are up. I meant to write about it, but the days slipped by, as they do so often now. I’m going to try to keep at the garden, even when I don’t keep at the blog. Like I said, I can use the exercise, and Chloe can use the fresh air, and we all can use the produce.

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.)

The herb garden is on the side of the house, and the bed closest to the house is mostly hostas and mulch because it’s an old house and I didn’t want to plant anything edible there, since it most likely had lead paint sometime in the past. As part of my plan of nonedibility, I put a little stone plaque that my sister-in-law gave me two Christmases ago there.

This year, I decided that I was going to put in some flowers that I didn’t have space or inclination to put anywhere else–specifically, red flax, marigolds, and four o’clocks. So I started pushing the mulch back, and around the plaque I noticed there were a lot of ants. I dug a little and noticed that there were some white things that looked a lot like larvae or pupae. I pushed the plaque out of the way, and found this:

5-17 ant nest

That’s a full-on ant nest. You can see the white masses of juveniles, with ants scrambling everywhere once their roof was removed. I even saw what was either a large winged ant or a small and badly lost fly come stumbling out of one of the tunnels.

The ants killed my cabbage plants last year by tunneling around their roots, plus I didn’t like how close to the house this was and let’s face it, I have major destructive impulses. Otherwise I wouldn’t be a gardener. (Discuss.)  So I dug this nest up as much as I could and mixed up the dirt and crushed all the pupae I could see. I left it a mostly-destroyed shambles, exposed to the air, its denizens dead or wildly disordered. I am a bad, bad person. When I noticed a few dark ants and white lumps in the dirt around the new bean sprouts yesterday I felt little remorse, though I do recognize that I may be experiencing the ant version of sweet revenge if none of my beans make it to maturity this year.

I meant to work on the garden Friday,  but it looked gray. Then Saturday, but it rained and was cold. So today was the day I actually went into the garden, armed with three days’ worth of intentions.

Eric and I discussed the Round-Up issue and we decided that he’d spray the weeds in the ornamental areas, plus the grass in the corner of the vegetable garden, and I would dig up the rest so that I could plant today. He went to work with a willing spirit.  “Killing plants!” he said. “Now this is something I’m good at!”

In the meantime, I dug up the east and west beds, except for where the potatoes and leeks (for seed) were already growing. I planted melons (Athena muskmelon and Sugar Baby watermelon from Hoen’s, plus Iroquois cantaloupe and Mickylee watermelon from seed) and more carrots (Danvers 126 and Yellostone) in the east bed, along with a transplanted row of what might be leeks or might be onions–I’m not sure, but they showed up near the leeks and seem to have onion-like bulbs and leek-like leaves, and I figured I’d let them hang around.  I planted yellow zucchini from Hoen’s and Zahra Hybrid and yellow scallop squash from seed in one of the west beds. I planted Mathilde Pickle and Bush Pickle cucumbers in the other west bed, and put in support poles. I planted Giant Marconi and King Arthur and Poblano and Inferno peppers in the raised bed. I watered everything well, and then I went inside to shape sandwich bread for its second rise and taste the French vanilla ice cream that Eric had just pulled out of the mixer. It’s a hard life.

Refreshed, I attacked the herb garden: I replanted Genovese basil (only one plant seems to have survived) and planted the seed starts from inside: cumin, Russian tarragon, summer savory, nigella, horehound, German chamomile, and balloon flower. I planted the rosemary and lavender I bought from the farmer’s market. I planted the Joi Choi pak choi and Red Romaine lettuce from Hoen’s, and moved some spinach and mustard plants. (I also pulled the komatsuna I’d planted earlier–it was all bolting. I expect it was because of the lack of water.) I watered everything. I realized I still had onions to plant.

Apparently I have issues about onions. I planted the available bed with them, then put in a few rows where I could fit them, then toyed with the idea of pulling out the cauliflower–I don’t expect anything from it anyway–to plant the remainder. I decided that was foolish and fit them in various places in the vegetable garden. I watered everything. I realized I still had flower starts to plant. I went inside anyway.

I’m now wondering whether I should cover the cucurbits, since I’m not sure of the status of rabbits in the garden and I do have little individual plastic covers that I got for my birthday. The main issue is whether I’ll remember to uncover them tomorrow morning…and how lucky I feel. My back is telling me maybe I shouldn’t waste all that effort, so perhaps I’ll go out a little later and put some insurance on today’s investment.

Today’s activities:

  • Transplanted fernleaf dill and Genovese basil
  • Placed stakes (though I’m going to ask Eric to help pound them in further, or wait until it rains) for tomatoes and beans
  • Planted four types of beans: Kentucky Wonder, Trionfo Violetto, Cherokee Trail of Tears, and Hidatsa Shield Figure
  • Planted safflower and more Red-Core Chantenay carrots
  • Noticed the sage has flower buds
  • De-weeded and turned over the rest of the growing space in the herb garden
  • Tied up raspberries to bamboo stakes
  • Moved daylilies in the hopes of combating the bindweed by the driveway
  • Decided to hell with it, I’m going to Round-Up the vegetable garden and start over
  • Decided maybe I should wait to make that decision when I haven’t been out in the yard for two hours, covered in dirt and pulling up my maternity pants every thirty seconds
Flowers and even fruit are only the beginning. In the seed lies the life and the future.

Marion Zimmer Bradley

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