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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!”

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.

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.

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 bought my first hoe yesterday. Yes, that’s right, I’ve been gardening for three years without a hoe. The side of a rake works okay, you know? Except that maybe a hoe would have helped avoid the weedpocalypse I’m facing. So I bought one. Also a packet of peas, late but just in case, and some onion sets because I confidently expect the seeds I started not to come up.

I also planted potatoes and onion sets and turnips and broad beans, and cleaned up the strawberry beds. Those strawberries were choked by weeds last year (also parsley, which technically counted as a weed since I didn’t want it where it was–parsnip is going to be the same way this year) but still managed to put out tons of runners. I ended up digging up all the strawberries (all the ones I could find, anyway), clearing away the weeds, regrading the bed, and replanting the strawberries. And adding mulch. It’s from the pile of grass clippings from last year, because the bag of actual mulch I bought last year and left out for the winter had strange orange filaments in it and I was suspicious of them. But I’m pretty sure that even if the orange filaments are a new killer fungus that destroys vegetation as we know it, those strawberry plants will keep on trucking.

“It’s too much trouble to take her outside,” I told Eric, dumping Chloe on the bed beside him. “I’d have to get the blanket and her toys out, plus her, plus the gardening stuff.”

“Okay,” he said sleepily.

“So you’re watching her,” I concluded. Actually I ended up putting her in her crib with toys so he could sleep a few more minutes. But I did end up outside without the baby and with my gloves and spade and seeds. The second pea trellis is up now, and the peas planted (I didn’t buy any, but I had a row’s worth of Pioneer shelling peas from two years ago that I’m thinking should be fine). Also spinach, and kale, and komatsuma, and two kinds of carrots and two kinds of beets. I forget every year just how wonderful it is to be out in the freshly-dug soil with seeds and a spade, burying promises under the earth.

I went inside when it got dark. If it hadn’t I might still be out there, digging and planting and arranging. (What is gardening like above the Arctic Circle?) I felt kind of bad for spending part of the few hours I have with my family every night out in the garden by myself; but I felt great having done it, and great being able to anticipate feeding my family in a couple of months with what I did tonight.

I weeded the melon patch yesterday. Man, did it need it. I certainly didn’t pull all the weeds out, but I pulled most and gave the rest a haircut, and as a result was actually able to see some dirt. None of the cantaloupe seeds I planted germinated, and the watermelon ones that did germinate seem to have disappeared, but the plants that I bought are going strong, especially the muskmelon.

After the weeding I sank a few short stakes in the ground and planted Kentucky Wonder beans. I remembered too late that I’d intended to put the Hutterites there, since I don’t want to have to step on melon vines while harvesting green beans. Oh well. I’ll live. Maybe the beans will, too.  By the time they were in I was warm enough that the mosquitos had found me, so I left without watering. Tomorrow, I’ll water and also tie up the tomatoes, which desperately need it.

The Giant Marconi growing is so tall it’s touched the ground, which is probably not good for it. I don’t remember getting peppers this early before–but then, I didn’t do a lot of purchased pepper plants before. I could like this whole early-start thing. Maybe eventually I’ll get good enough at seed-starting to make it happen myself.

There’s a spot in the vegetable garden that’s always bugged me (even ignoring the rabbit warren/weed invasion issues). It’s on the east side of the Asian pear, the bit between the tree, the raised bed, and the compost box. It’s too crowded to be a good place to grow vegetables but it’s too big just to be a pathway. The neighbor mentioned a while ago that the corner garden she put in next to the fence is a butterfly garden, and it struck me that that would be an excellent thing to do with this space: get rid of the weeds and general detritus left from using it as the auxiliary compost pile, maybe do some lasagna garden-type layering, plant some nice bushy beneficial-insect-attracting flowers, and mulch the heck out of it. Of course with her butterfly garden just on the other side of the fence it’s really not going to be all that much more beneficial, but I don’t see why that should stop me.

The auxiliary compost pile actually left a nice amount of straw-type detritus that will do as beginning mulch. It also left an anise hyssop, which is nice and tall and just budding out, in exactly the right place. Today (after planting more insurance basil, plus the sunflowers and the Red Warty Thing in the corner with crossed fingers) I pushed it aside, dug or pulled out the weeds, moved the volunteer Hopi Red Dye amaranth that showed up in front of the cucumbers beside the anise hyssop, and put the detritus back. The bugs and hunger were starting to bother me, so I didn’t do more, but I have plans, plans that involve some of the flowers and Red Leaf basil on my porch (why did the Red Leaf come up when the stuff I actually like to eat didn’t?) and two bags of mulch that were leftover from aborted projects in the fall. Maybe even plans that involve getting some bricks or stones to ring it with and delineate the bed from the path, which I know would be a really, really good idea. I never thought I’d enjoy building an entirely ornamental bed this much. I wonder if it’s because of its connection to the vegetables, or my horizons are simply expanding.

So it turns out I was wrong about the Kentucky Wonders coming up. Everything in that quadrant of the bean patch was, um, weeds. So I planted Italian Rose beans there instead. It occurred to me too late that these are shell beans, not snaps, so if/when I get the sunflowers up in the garden I may get a packet of snap beans and try planting those. The Trionfo Violettos are doing well right now, though (except for a possible ant hostile takeover, the reason for which I shall elaborate on later), so with luck we’ll at least have those.

At the farmer’s market today one of the vendors was selling herbs for a dollar a pot, so I got some peppermint and a pot of three basil plants as insurance, because none of the three plantings of basil I’ve done so far have yielded a thing. I planted them out today as well, along with moving one of the borage plants out of the bed where I had them last year, which looked awful. (I pulled all the rest of those plants. I could have sworn those things never went to seed but I had dozens of volunteers in that bed.)

And I weeded. I had decided that I’d only weed the beans, since I needed to plant there anyway, but when I was done with those the onion bed and basil bed had only a few that needed pulling to be done, and then the lettuce looked bad and I want to take care of it, and then I might as well go through the beets, and the carrots needed taking care of, and by that time I was almost done with the entire herb garden, so I finished it. Compartmentalization–deciding “I’m only going to do this small patch”–made it so much easier to get down to the job and really do it. Now I understand how the rest of you don’t do what I normally do, which is look at the entire garden and think “My God, I’ll never get to all of it” and give up. I couldn’t for the life of me seem to do the weeding methodically, so I know it isn’t complete, but I did much, much better than I normally would.

At that point I’d been outside an hour and was getting hot and a little achy (three charley horses last night; I told Eric and he said “How is that possible, when you only have two legs?” and I would have hit him but he was out of reach and my calves hurt so I didn’t get up), so I pulled a little bindweed, inspected the vegetable garden, and went inside. The zucchini seeds I planted are coming up, and two of the cucumbers are in imminent need of trellising. Taking care of that, the sunflowers, the Red Warty Thing, more beans, and more weeding were on my list, but they’re getting deferred to tomorrow.

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

Marion Zimmer Bradley

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