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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!”

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. 

So I’ve finally, after a couple of attempts, got some green beans growing, in the herb garden. The vegetable garden is just doing terribly this year. Is it the rabbits again? I had thought they were gone after their warren was destroyed thanks to the city. (No, seriously. Thanks!) Maybe it’s the bugs, or the heat, or the neglect. Whatever it is, a single Trionfo Violetto came up in the vegetable garden this year. When I finally faced this fact, I moved into the herb garden, which the rabbits don’t seem to bother even though it’s not fenced in as the vegetable garden is. Maybe I’m trying too hard.

Nevertheless, the beans are finally going, but slow. My supervisor at work has offered me the leftovers from his garden, which is awesome, but not the same as having my own. (It’s surprising how many of my coworkers get the daily paper. Now everyone knows (a) I’m a vegetable gardener and (b) I have the cutest baby possible. Tahree, the reporter who wrote the article, says that a bunch of people have gotten in touch with her about being in the series in the last couple of days. She attributes it to the cuteness of my baby. I think that’s fair.) Especially since I haven’t gotten any dry beans planted this year. Except, that is, for two.

Last year I had a sort of monolith in the garden, each side a different bean. I had Trionfo Violetto and Hidatsa Shield Figure and Cherokee Trail of Tears (very thick-skinned, by the by, or at least those ones were) and Italian Rose. The Italian Roses are bush shelling beans, and I never actually ate any, but I found a few for seed and brought them inside with the Hidatsas and Cherokees. Then I didn’t have any place to put them, and was too lazy to get out my seed container, so I left them on the counter. A few were swept up when I cleaned, a few were lost, and I was left with two, which I had no place for.

So one day, clearing off the counter (finally), I tossed them into the little four-inch pot on the windowsill where the Mother of Millions babies are. Later, I watered. The beans sprouted. And grew. And kept growing, because why not? It’s a sunny window with space to climb (though I actually broke off the tips after they started doubling up and looking scraggly) and adequate water. They hooked over the screen latch and the curtains. They flowered. And now? Small beans are growing on my windowsill.

This is probably the only way I was ever going to taste a shelling bean this year. If these plants keep going, this may be the greatest discovery since basil. Fresh beans! On the windowsill! In a tiny pot! With no mosquitos or 97 degree heat involved! I may have to do this every year.

Guess what I have in my garden? Tomatoes! Not that this should be a surprise, since I planted them and all. But since I’ve barely been back to check on them, I was kind of surprised when I went back to tie them up–yes, for the first time, in July–and found them not only thriving but with lots of green globes attached. Let me tell you, I would never accept a nomination for Mother Nature. The incumbent does great, and I…I would not.

I’d promised to be back there only long enough to tie up my tomatoes, on account of we were headed for AAA to pick up Eric’s car before they closed and then go to dinner. But when I got back there and saw the result of my neglect, all thoughts of dinner went out the window. Now that I’ve had experience in motherhood, I think I can say that gardening is a lot like it. Specifically, full of guilt. I feel bad when I’m not with Chloe and I feel bad when I’m with her for the things I’m not doing. I feel bad for neglecting my garden and I feel bad for the time I spend on it because it’s time Eric has to spend watching Chloe, and now that he’s home for the summer and watching her full-time he doesn’t get much alone time and I know he’d like me to provide some. But she can’t go back with me in the jungle. There are parsnips growing wild everywhere, and tomatoes trailing on the ground–not anymore, or at least not some;  I only tied up a few before Eric dragged me away because I was busy clearing away the weeds from the poor half-smothered peppers and eggplants, yanking out flowering thistles and threatening-looking pokeweed, swearing roundly at the bindweed and trying to calculate whether the black plastic sheeting I got is going to cover everything. The garden needs to be put down for  the summer, at least the part that keeps killing the plants I put into it. In the fall when the weeds are dead, I’ll figure things out.

I say this all the time. I do keep meaning to get my act together. But Chloe and Eric come first, and since I know I can get at least some food out of a garden mostly neglected, un-neglecting the garden is unfortunately low on my list. But I do need to do some work. Eric can watch Chloe a little more. And the beans and zucchini I planted in the herb garden are actually coming up, unlike everything I put in the vegetable garden, so I’ve got poles to transfer and greens to pull before they seed and oregano to harvest. Eventually I’ll figure out a balance between my garden and the rest of my life. Until then, I’ll keep making plans and seeing how spectacularly I fail at them. I’ve got tomatoes, anyway.

I got out to the farmer’s market Saturday, for the first time since it turned cold. “No one’s going to be there!” Eric exclaimed. “Who’s going to go when it’s 25 degrees out?” I explained that the winter market is held in the covered area of the market where the walls can be put down. Apparently he doesn’t remember me going there last winter.

Plenty of people were there, actually–vendors as well as shoppers. I stopped to talk with a couple of friends for a few minutes in front of the honey lady. We probably stood there too long, but I got a big jar of honey and some whipped honey-with-blackberries, so I hope that made up for it. I also got some bay leaves, since my bay tree died a while ago, some sweet potatoes, apples, and kohlrabi. I’ve never tasted kohlrabi, much less prepared it myself, so this should be interesting. I’m not sure what to do with it. But I’m up for trying, and we need to start cooking more; we’ve been doing too many dinners that are a pot of pasta and nothing else, or Jimmy John’s, or pizza. (Homemade pizza, but still.)

It’s also time to think about winter-sowing some lettuce. The winter-sown lettuce I did the year before last was bigger and better than any I planted in the ground directly, and with the beds a mess I can’t do that right away anyway. Now that Chloe is able to be by herself for reasonable stretches (I made two kinds of bread this weekend, for example) I should be able to spare a few minutes to cut open a cider container and dunk in some dirt and seeds. Eventually I want to do gardening with her, but right now the dirt and seeds would go right in her mouth and that’s a situation best avoided, so she can play in her jumper while I start some salad.

Chloe and I went out today to pick the last tomatoes and dig up roots. I intended to harvest the elecampane roots (for dyeing) but gave up after I leaned against the shovel to try to get leverage to get one out of the ground and took a tumble amidst a pile of bricks. The bruises already hurt, which is a bad sign.

So I stuck to the carrots and beets. Somehow the white/yellow/red/purple carrot mix I planted ended up almost entirely white, which means my carrots look like radishes or parsnips. I planned to get the parsnips, too, but my ankles and back were hurting (I was wearing Chloe in the sling and I’m not used to crouching in it) so I gave up and went inside.

But not before getting a handful more of dried beans from the dried-bean edifice. I left the plants up when I picked them over and now a bunch of them have new, green pods hanging there. They’re trying to tempt me to leave them up! Evil, evil plants.

Two white eggplant. One green bell pepper, three red Giant Marconi (I think) peppers. Lots of tomatoes, some deep red, some the ones that Dad didn’t pick because he thought they weren’t ripe yet: Persimmon and Tiger-Like and a black one and one with yellow shoulders  (I do have them written down, somewhere). Dried Mitla Black bean husks hiding small, svelte beans. Purple Trionfo Violetto beans, swollen with ripe seeds because I didn’t ask anyone to pick them. I’m leaving them to become seed because I have Kentucky Wonders growing elsewhere, on a later schedule. Even a neglected garden is a rainbow in August.

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.

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.

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

Marion Zimmer Bradley

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