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My pickle cucumbers are growing like gangbusters. (Or Eric’s pickle cucumbers, if you like.) They’re more than twice as big as the vining cucumbers I planted at the same time, and that were the same size at that time. The pickle cucumbers are bush, they’re hybrid, they’re growing in a more sheltered part of the garden, and they’re also planted in more acidic (because I put sulfur in for the blueberry) soil. I don’t know which of these–if it’s not just caprice–is doing it. I’m not sure whether I should start experimenting with the other cucumbers or just leave well enough alone. Come to think of it, the only thing I can change is the acidity of the soil anyway.

The strawberries I started from seed are finally looking like actual strawberries, and I’m contemplating whether it’s time to plant them outside. I’ve run out of planters and the strawberry bed is the herb bed this year, so this would require buying a new planter–something I’m not terribly averse to if truth be told. I also want to buy a tenth tomato plant to replace the one I killed. Or maybe an eggplant–the Togas are very bedraggled, but they are getting better.

At any rate, the strawberries need room until next year. Next year, I plan to put all the herbs in the side yard, which is currently occupied by grass, daylilies, and dryer lint, plus a tree that was strangled to death by some vine last year. My plan for fall–or whenever I get the energy for it–is to move the daylilies to the corner of the yard where it’s shady and fairly ugly, and also to the new island I created around the pear and peach trees. I will cut down the tree, clean up the beds, and put my herbs there next spring.

Ideally, I’d pull up all the grass entirely (Eric would love this) and put down some lovely stone I saw at the local water garden shop, with an island in the middle for creeping thyme and maybe a dwarf fruit tree or some berry bushes. (Would my raspberries survive if I moved them? I now have–oh, excitement–five whole flowers on the one that really seems to be growing. And surrounding them with stone would be a way to contain them, should they take off.) Realistically, I’ll widen the beds to cut down on mowing a bit. We’re leaving the house in a couple of years, or I’d push harder for my dream herb garden. If we weren’t going to be selling the house, I’d also be more interested in taking Eric up on his offer to expand the garden. Next year’s cucumbers will also need lots of room to grow.


Good grief. I take a week off to get married and my garden completely transforms. For one thing, the weeds have moved in and made themselves comfortable. I’m going to have to take some serious anti-weed action in the next couple of days, after I clean up the house and put away the wedding stuff–or to avoid doing it.

The tomatoes seem to have doubled in size, and a couple of them have flowers. I need to get their stakes out pronto. The spinach has bolted, which annoys me greatly–I haven’t even gotten to enjoy a spinach salad yet. I don’t think I like this variety of spinach; I’ll try something else next year. On the other hand, the lettuce is quite lush and ready. We’re definitely having salad the next couple of days. After all the meals out, and then catering, I’m dying for some good home-cooked meals anyway.

The sunflowers are thriving, but the green beans don’t seem to be coming up. This also annoys me greatly. The other beans are doing just fine, as are the broccoli, the cucumber (except for one), the zucchini, and the peppers. The eggplants still look bedraggled, poor things, and I noticed huge gatherings of tiny red beetles. I hope they’re not harmful. I wonder if they might be boxelder bug nymphs, and if they would really bother my three fruit trees. If so, I might bring out the boiling water.

There are four plants in my potato plot that seem to be too big for five days’ growth–but they’re right above the four potatoes I planted, so I guess they’re potato plants. I guess I’ll know if they need hilling.

The wedding went well. My flowers were white and blue, and I’ll be pressing them tonight so I can put them into photo albums and thank-you notes. I had intended to pass them out but the florist didn’t accommodate that in tying them together, and I didn’t fuss about it. Our centerpieces were papyrus in glass containers with river rocks, and I’m going to keep at least one of the plants (and give others to my new brother-in-law and stepmother-in-law). We also had a couple of potted plants as decorations. Suddenly I’m surrounded by plants. And why not? It’s getting to be summer and I no longer have to worry about planning my wedding. Bring on the plants. Bring on the weeds, even.

I have pea blooms! I went to the garden yesterday to poke around–nothing’s dead except a few weeds I pulled while I was there–and found a few small white blossoms in my pea patch. I’m thrilled. I don’t even have to worry about whether bees will find them (since nothing else is blooming in my garden yet and the bleeding heart is on the other end of the yard) since they’re self-pollinating. There are peas in my future.

I noted that only the lower half of the tomatoes’ leaves are flea-beetle-hole-ridden, meaning they’ve been stealth growing by leaps and, potentially, bounds. Once I actually looked at them, especially compared to older pictures, I could see that. The two older eggplants aren’t doing well, but I planted my last one with the cucumbers and it has no holes in it yet, so I guess late May is the right time to avoid the flea beetles. Good to know for next year.

Everything else looks good, except for the sparseness of the carrots; but I planted more recently, and the ones that came up look fine. The beans are leafy and bright, the broccoli are starting to look like actual plants, the Swiss chard is small but growing quickly. We had salad with dinner last night made with lettuce and onions from the garden, and Eric seemed surprised that the lettuce tasted like real lettuce.

My wedding is this weekend, and my parents are coming to town tomorrow, so I’m not expecting to get any serious gardening–by which I mean any at all, except the potting of the papyrus that’s going to sit at the gazebo where the ceremony is–done until next week. I will probably go there every day anyway, as I have been, to look at the little plants peacefully growing and take out my anxiety on the weeds.

One of my biggest lessons this gardening year so far has been that I need wiggle room in my plans for plants I hadn’t intended to buy. Look at my impulse-buy onions and potatoes, my let’s-plant-a-tomato-early purchase, my fairly random snatch of a packet of Swiss chard seeds. This weekend it was cucumbers.

I had planned to buy a cucumber plant, mind you. It was to sit serenely beside the lemon cucumber and produce a couple of cucumbers every once in a while for the occasional salad or snack. We went to Andersons for strawberries and peaches (for wedding ice cream) and pots (for wedding papyrus and a bay tree they had at Oak Park, where we got the papyrus) and I intended to get just such a plant, because it’s time to stop with the planting and start with the growing.

“I’d like to try pickling,” Eric said after I had dragged him to the appropriate aisle, avoiding looking at the other plants on the way, just in case. “It would be nice to have a lot of cucumbers.”

He was looking at the pickling cucumbers. I was looking at the Burpless and Straight Eights, slicing cucumbers. Eric hasn’t asked much of the garden–parsley and carrots, so far, and is more or less willing to be patient on the carrots. (No sign of the parsley yet. Maybe of the dill, but then again they might be a new kind of weed. Next year I’ll know to soak the parsley seeds first and start them much, much earlier.) So of course we had to get the second cucumber. Then it transpired that Andersons didn’t thin their cucumber plants, and there were two or three plants in each pot. So we came home with three Straight Eight seedlings and two Bush Pickle seedlings.

As it happens, we finally cleared out the little bed by the garage of trash, and I intended to mulch and eventually plant things there anyway. As it also happens, one of the two blueberry bushes is definitely dead. So I had space to plant, barely. Two of the Straight Eights went into the space where I’d planned on the one (they can be spaced closer than I thought, 10″, so it wasn’t too bad actually) and one in the garage bed, and one of the Bush Pickles went into the blueberry bush pot and the other into the ground beside it, where I won’t trod on it on the way to the compost bin if I’m careful.

I also planted my cantaloupes, more than I probably really have room for, and my homegrown pepper (which has almost caught up to the nursery plants!), and my tomato-like weed. Butternut squash and pumpkins will go into the garden in a week or two, and after that I should–theoretically–not be buying any more vegetables for planting. At least not until fall.

“Have you heard there’s a frost warning?” Edith said to me a few days ago. “Bring in your plants.”

I instantly envisioned digging up each tomato, eggplant, and pepper and depositing them on the living room carpet. “Or cover them,” she added, possibly noticing my perplexity. “That will protect them. It might not get that cold, but it’s better to be safe.” She gave me a length of $1/yard polyester and sent me on my way. It was getting dark, but I went straight to the garden.

The polyester covered the tomatoes. The spare pots the previous owners left in the garage covered the two eggplants and two peppers. The half-made-into-curtain fabric sitting on my fabric stash (what?) covered portions of the beans; I figured as long as some of them survived, it would be okay.  I went inside and thought warm thoughts.

The next morning, right before I left for work, I went back to the garden. Everything was sopping with dew, but nothing looked frozen. Underneath the covers a few plants were bent, but none were broken and all looked cheerful. They’ve recovered from the bending, and I don’t seem to have killed the solanaceae with the fertilizer (which I was afraid of when I realized I made the concentration in the water too high). All seems well…at least right now.

So there I was, pouring fertilizer-laden water over the ground where my solanaceae lay, and I noticed that the lowest leaf on one of my F2 cherry tomatoes was alarmingly yellow. Trying to recall what I had read of early blight and fusarium wilt, I decided to pick the leaf off, figuring it probably wouldn’t hurt and might help. I leaned over, grabbed the leaf–and snapped the stem off instead.

There I was, my first cut bouquet of tomato plant in my hand, looking foolishly at the stub of tomato sticking up from the ground. The first thing I did? Rip off the yellow leaf. Then I went inside and wetted a pot of dirt and stuck the tomato plant into it. Tomatoes grow roots along their stems, it’s possible this one will root before it dies, right?  

Also it turns out that fusarium can be mimicked by overwatering, and we got an overabundance of water with that storm, plus magnesium deficiency could also be the culprit; so I might not have to worry about the other tomatoes (except the Celebrity, which is fusarium resistant anyway)–but I don’t know. At least now I can examine the roots of that tomato plant to see if anything was wrong down there.

What an idiot.

It was humid, the sky light and cheerful in one patch, dark and scowling in another. The air was tense. I poked around in my garden, thinking I ought to fertilize, but not wanting to get caught in the rain. So I picked some green onions (to make a spicy sauce I learned from my mother), went inside, and picked up my garden journal (where I’ve been recording when I plant things and when they come up.) “It’s going to storm soon,” I wrote.

Suddenly trees were bending, the sky completely dark. Rain pelted down at a forty-five degree angle. The house shook. “It’s storming now,” I wrote.

The storm lasted until darkness, which was fine since I had an ice cream test batch to make and a quilt to work on. (Notably, both of these things are wedding-related.) This morning was much cooler than yesterday (57 instead of 80) and I probably should have brought in the zucchini I started hardening off yesterday. But I didn’t; instead, I went for a quick walk through the garden before work.

The bush beans greeted me, thicker than they had been–I ended up planting my entire seed packet, so I hope they do well. I noted, as I haven’t before, that I need to plant more carrots and spinach to fill in the holes where nothing germinated. The pole beans and sunflowers had gotten bigger. The marigolds and nasturtiums had gotten much bigger. A friend gave me some cosmos, and I forgot to check on them–I’ll have to do that this afternoon.

I’m also going to make good on my thought of fertilizing. The newer leaves on my tomatoes are much darker than the older ones. They’re also much less flea-beetle-hole-riddled, which is a good sign, but I’d like to help them along. I’m not sure the eggplants are going to recover at all. I do have one extra plant that I kept back, but now I’m afraid to plant it at all. But what’s gardening, or any hobby, without taking risks? You learn and live, even if the plant doesn’t.

There’s a concept in psychology (which I majored in) called inert knowledge. It’s where you know a fact but can’t, or don’t, connect it to your ordinary life–say you know that onions are vegetables and that vegetables are grown from seed, but since you never see the process you’re still surprised to hear that onions can be grown from seed (as Eric was the other day).

Amaranth is not a grass. And I knew that; I was looking it up a few days ago (for its protein content) and coming across ornamental versions, like, say, love-lies-bleeding. But I wasn’t accessing that fact when I was staring at the grass seedlings in my amaranth plot. I just knew there hadn’t been that many seeds in the packet when I sowed them and I didn’t want to accidentally pull them.

Turns out I was foolish on two counts. This’ll teach me not to do my research. I planted Hopi Red Dye amaranth. Can you see where this is going? I was jealous of Genie’s purple seedlings the other day (and thinking I needed colors other than brown and green around here). Today, I went to my garden to poke around and looked closely at the ground.

Red amaranth seedlings

I’ll be pulling the grass out of my amaranth plot shortly.

Pole bean, uneaten by rabbits

For Green Thumb Sunday, I present the most forward of my pole beans, completely uneaten. There are more, and some sunflowers. (Also broccoli! And Swiss chard! And little things that I’m pretty sure are the nasturtiums I planted a couple of weeks ago! In the future, for every seed I plan to plant that I haven’t seen the seedling for, I will try to plant one early indoors so that I know what to look for. I have some Hopi Red Dye amaranth planted. In that bed is a bunch of grass seedlings. But amaranth is a grass, isn’t it? So I’m hesitant to pull the weeds, and it’s killing me.) I could use some advice on whether or not to pull up the ones that have been chewed and replace them. How much cotyledon can a seedling lose before it’s no longer viable?

To achieve this, I fixed two weak points in my fencing–a board to cover a hole under the neighbor’s fence, and a block to cover the small seam between the garage and mine. I don’t know for sure that this did the trick and the rabbits weren’t just going to see the baby polar bears at the zoo like everyone else, but for now this bean lives, and that means I win.

I walked into my garden this afternoon and found holes in the leaves of my eggplants. Then in my tomatoes. And numerous, tiny black bugs on every single plant I planted (except the basil and marigolds, I suppose) two days ago. They jumped off when I touched them, so I shook every plant to get them off, though I know they’re just going to hop back on.

I have flea beetles. The various sites I consulted say that, basically, there is nothing to be done but weed, wait, and hope that my plants grow before they’re consumed.

Also? My pole beans are coming up! However: two of them have been chewed on. It doesn’t look like bug damage. It looks like furry-little-critter damage. Time to check my fence (and my neighbor’s).

Also? There are grass seedlings sprouting everywhere.

So that’s my garden future: battling the bugs, the rabbits, and the weeds. Why did I decide to start a garden?

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

Marion Zimmer Bradley