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I should be checking more frequently for cucumbers. I haven’t been in the garden the last couple of days, and maybe that’s why I’ve been feeling lousy. (Well, it’s not. But being in the garden does make me feel better, and I haven’t been going.) All the little pickle cucumbers are fat little sausages now.

The cucumbers are climbing all over the tomatillos, but the tomatillos are holding their own, yellow flowers still blasting everywhere. And I do have at least one tomatillo growing. There’s this green balloon hanging from the taller of the two plants like a Chinese lantern. It appears to be empty, but I’m confident it will fill. Thanks, pollinators.


More pickling tonight, this time with more garlic and dill and a cautious bit of sugar. Afterwards, I urged Eric to go out and see the peaches on the peach tree, since he claimed not to have noticed them while mowing. He stared at it. “There are peaches?” he said blankly.

“There,” I said, pointing. “And there. And there. And there. And there. And–” By then he’d gotten it and was busy being amazed by their velvety glowing beauty, so I looked at the pear tree, which is much older, well-established, graceful in a way our gangly peach tree isn’t, and laden with tiny pears.

Also with black-spotted leaves. I called Eric away from his peach-worship to look, and then we consulted the Internet, and we seem to have Fabraea leaf spot. It’s a fungus that grows explosively in midsummer and looks almost like scale, up until the spots have spread so far that the leaves don’t have spots, the spots have bits of leaf. It causes leaf drop and disfigurement of fruit. Fabraea is not our friend, even if it’s got a pretty name.

“Do you think we can save the pears?” Eric said sadly as we further consulted the Internet on fixes. There are two: cut away all affected branches–which is all of them–or spray with fungicide. We’re going to look into fungicide. I hate to do it–not to mention the expense of buying it, plus the sprayer we undoubtedly need to administer it–but I really love that tree, whether we save the pears or no.

No tomatoes yet. My first ripe tomato last year was July 9 or 11, depending on which one you’re counting. I have mentioned this to Eric multiple times. “It was a really cold, wet spring,” he has reminded me several times. My mother-in-law around the corner has ripe cherry tomatoes. She bought the biggest plants Anderson had, admittedly, but mine are bigger now and I feel it’s just not fair.

Nevertheless, I’m waiting. Eric told me the other day that he thinks we underestimated how many tomatoes we needed to grow for everything we wanted to make. “You know what we forgot?” he said and paused dramatically. “Gazpacho!” I didn’t forget it, but perhaps something made him long for it–the hot, sticky day at the zoo Saturday, perhaps. We went with friends and flopped down in the cool air conditioning when we got back. I served garden carrots and our pickles and they were thoroughly approved. Also grilled zucchini, and corn from the farmer’s market, because mine is tantalizingly close but it isn’t ready yet. No tomatoes, no corn. Jalapenos hanging out with nothing to accompany them. Mosquitos having a grand old time. It’s almost August and where is my glut of produce? Maybe I’m too impatient to be a good gardener.

At least I’m doing well with herbs and cucumbers. I froze chopped dill and chopped basil in ice cube trays with water, and the basil did not turn black, for anyone who is also looking for ways to preserve fresh herbs for later. I must make my favorite quinoa salad with fresh herbs again, before the dill is irrevocably lost. We’re pickling more this week, so that’ll help. I also finally came up with the right onion-dill bread recipe to replace the Jungle Jim’s loaves we long for, which will also help. But as good as the bread is, what I really want is a tomato to slice over it.

I have a plastic tub, littered with bright red and orange petals, sitting on what’s rapidly becoming the seed-saving bench by the staircase. They’re safflower petals. I read online that they should be plucked and dried, so I went out and pulled the petals. Most of them are sitting above immature seed pods. They’re the most beautiful garden detritus ever. I also picked marigold heads and froze them in a plastic bag. My home is a halfway house for preserved color.

These are both for dyeing. I’ll need more of both before I can dye any substantial amount of fiber, but I’m willing to wait. I’m a spinner and a knitter, with a vast amount of white fiber in my fiber basket and a small but decent budget for the Michigan Fiber Festival next month. And to buy more fiber I should spin and knit what I have, and spinning is much more fun when the fiber is colored. Especially when it’s the colors of my own garden.

The Hopi Red Dye amaranth is coming up well (if randomly–as I said, none where I planted them but plenty where I didn’t), and the tepary beans are too, and I have rosemary and red-leaf basil already. (The latter turns out to taste like anise, which I despise, so I was glad to find in my copy of A Dyer’s Garden that they make a nice olive green or muaveish dye, depending on how they’re treated and what fiber you use.) I don’t know whether my indigo is going to get big enough to use this year. I do know that I’m going to have a tremendous amount of fun trying to bring the colors of my plants into the fiber that I will draw and twist into yarn, and making the yarn into beautiful, useful things, just like the plants (and animals) they came from.

I feel I should make a confession. It is this: I have made no real attempt to keep up with the weeds this year. When they were young, yes, and even now I grab at fistfuls in the paths and yank clumps of grass too close to a plant, and pull up the weeds that are so tall they’re going to flower…but mainly, I’m letting them go. Especially when it comes to the paths. Ideally I’d lay down newspaper and then wood chips, or (in my wildest dreams) stone and sand, but we don’t really have the money for that until fall, and it’s so hot and full of mosquitos, and I’m so lazy.

I went into the garden today to pick cucumbers and beets (I pulled all of them, and planted new ones, because after reading Christa’s account of her beet harvest, I was afraid they’d suffer if I left them) and replenish the carrot bag in the fridge, and harvest my first two scallop zucchini. I’d thought they would be flatter, like discs, but I like their funny acorn shapes too. Also my first potimarron are getting big.

Then, between the All-Blue potatoes and the French Fingerling potatoes, I saw this.

This used to be the space where the surviving onions were. They may still be there, but I doubt it; it’s been overrun by the potatoes. I didn’t realize potato plants would get this big and long and pushy; the Irish Cobblers didn’t last year. (They did this year. I guess I didn’t plant them in a good spot last year.) Anyway, back when it was still open to the air, I did notice a carrot-like plant there, and figured that was exactly what it was, a carrot seed that had been dropped there by the wind and sprouted, so I left it.

But it can’t be a carrot now. I don’t think it’s Queen Anne’s lace either, because they’re both biennial, and last year that was the Hutterite bean patch (they’re doing very well in this year’s location, by the by) and I would have noticed a carrot-like plant. Also I dug up everything when I added compost. Also I haven’t seen Queen Anne’s lace around here anywhere, though I suppose that doesn’t have to stop it.

So I don’t know what it is. I suppose I should pull it, since it can’t possibly yield me food, and I don’t know that I’d save the seeds since I don’t know what it is. On the other hand, it’s not hurting anything, and I’m interested to see what the flowers look like, if they’re pretty or if they’re like the parsley flowers, tight and green and boring. (And ALL OVER MY GARDEN. I am going to have so many flat-leaf parsley seeds at the end of this season. Anyone who wants some, e-mail me. Even people who’ve offered to trade with me and then never sent their seeds. No, not them.) On the other other hand (call me Zaphod Beeblebrox), if I pull it now, I’ll probably spare myself the energy I would otherwise spend wondering about it.

I’ve completed the walking challenge, courtesy of a half-hour of gardening in the dusk (damage: three mosquito bites on the hand that was holding the shovel while I knelt to weed) and emergency use of an old pilates tape when I discovered there was no step equivalent for “standing in the kitchen cooking all day.” Alas.

The pickles are in their jars in the fridge, awaiting Wednesday, when we can crack them open and see how they taste. The recipe came from a pickling book my friend M gave me a few years ago (a book that, sadly, does not have a pickled beet recipe that Eric will accept, pickled being the only way he has eaten beets; however, he says that the Chioggia I gave him a bite of was good enough that maybe pickling won’t be necessary) and we modified it slightly to accommodate the six quart jars we had to use instead of one big crock. This is how it went:

1. I’d picked a kilo of cucumbers and the recipe called for another kilo, so we trooped out to the garden. Eric couldn’t see any cucumbers and got bitten by mosquitos, so retreated. I found four pickling cucumbers, a small slicer that we decided would work in a pinch, and a large slicer that I will be eating as part of dinner tonight (it’s Eric’s games-and-pizza-with-the-guys night), and brought them inside.

2. We quartered the cucumbers, sixth-ing and eighth-ing a few, and placed them in brine consisting of 10 cups water and 1/8 c pickling salt. We later decided that we should have added more salt, but probably it wasn’t a big deal because the brining was meant to make them crunchier, and as they were mostly only minutes off the vine they were pretty crunchy anyway.

3. We discussed the pickling cucumbers available at the farmer’s market and debated how fresh the pickling book author probably assumed the cucumbers would be. We made angelfood cake, pesto, hummus, pita bread dough, and no-egg ice cream, and did a lot of dishes.

4. We got impatient after four hours (the book said to let the cucumbers brine at least eight hours, preferably overnight) and mixed the apple cider/red wine vinegar, water, and salt. We had no non-metal pot big enough so we put it in our biggest glass mixing bowl and microwaved it. It never boiled, so we eventually decided it must be hot enough.

4a. We decided pickling was something we were going to continue to pursue, and put a large non-metal pot on our to-buy list.

5. Each of six quart jars got two crushed cloves of garlic, several sprigs of dill, a tablespoon of pickling spices (minus the chili pods), and as many cucumber spears as would fit, and was filled with the hot vinegar mix. There wasn’t quite enough liquid, so Eric heated some more quickly and topped them off.

6. Eric gazed at the jars, sniffing occasionally and telling me that he could smell the garlic now, or the dill, or the allspice. All I could smell was the vinegar.

7. When they cooled, we debated tasting them then, decided to refrain, and stuck them in the fridge.

8. We made a list of all the people we could conceivably give pickles to, because those cucumber plants aren’t exactly ready to give up.

We’re making pickles and pesto today. (Also angelfood cake and tabbouleh–parsley and tomatoes from the farmer’s market–and fresh pita bread. It’s too hot to go outside. Which is too bad, because I have 8800 steps left before the end of the Oregon Trail.) The cucumbers are crunchy and glorious, but I’m suddenly more captivated by, of all things, flowers. Well, herbs. Pretty herbs.

This is the feverfew that I traded to Jason last year for some of my Hopi Red Dye amaranth. I hope they turned out well for him (the ones I planted in my garden mostly didn’t come up, but volunteers are all over), because I’m loving this feverfew.

And this is the safflower I bought from Seeds of Change to try dyeing with. I probably don’t have enough, but I don’t even care because these things make me so happy to look at.

I have approximately twenty-four mosquito bites on my legs. No exaggeration. I went into the garden to get the zucchini I knew was there and discovered that I actually have cucumbers. Four, and several more almost ready. So of course I picked them, plus some carrots for dinner, and I thought I felt foliage pricking the backs of my legs, but no: it was mosquitos. Twenty-four. I give in. No more shorts in the garden.

On the other hand: I have cucumbers! And Zahra zucchini! And herbs and carrots and green beans in the fridge! I ate mostly from the garden tonight: grilled zucchini with oregano, lemon (store) potatoes with parsley and basil, carrots and cucumber slices. It turns out Dragon carrots are beautiful beyond belief, but Red-Cored Chantenay taste better. In the next few days we’ll be making pickles, and I’ll be checking the tomatillos because I think they’re starting to form fruits but I’m not sure, and I’ll be harvesting more zucchini and trimming its leaves and tying up the tomatoes. In long pants.

We broke down and called Orkin about the carpenter ants in the kitchen. They had actually slowed down while we were gone, but now that we’re back, so are they, and I couldn’t take it anymore. Eric scheduled their visit yesterday at five. When I came home, the Orkin man was just going over paperwork and driving away. “The ants should be dead,” Eric reported, “and if not, they’ll come back again for free. It’s part of their guarantee.” I rejoiced. I wasn’t excited about mass murder of ants, but I wasn’t excited about never putting anything out on the counter again either, so I was ready to embrace better living through chemicals.

However, I went out to the garden today. (I’ve been working in the yard today and yesterday, making up steps for the walking challenge and also moving the daylilies because Eric can’t stand them anymore. I’m moving them to the bindweed-infested area by the driveway because in a daylily-versus-bindweed showdown, I might just put my money on daylilies. And if not, I still won’t have to weed as much.) I’m pleased to report that the corn is forming little cobs, about two per stalk, and I’m already planning a Corn Party. Also that one zucchini is swelling and that the beans are going strong. I am not pleased to report that the Orkin man sprinkled boric acid all through both of my gardens. Not just the part near the house, but all through them.

I admit that the vegetable garden borders the garage, and the garage has a leak in the roof, and therefore it’s not a bad place for ants to be nesting. Even though we haven’t seen the carpenter ants outside. Apparently the Orkin man also put boric acid on the tree on the very edge of our property, where if there are ants they’re more likely to bother the neighbors than us. I also admit that boric acid is not a huge deal, not dangerous to humans or massively bad for insects. I further admit that it’s not like the garden insects seem to have suffered, considering all the flies and leafhoppers and grasshoppers I saw as i was taking stock.

But I am displeased anyway. I decided not to bring harmful chemicals into my gardens (or not ones that the plants hadn’t made themselves, I suppose). I decided to live with the bugs. I decided that I wouldn’t live with the bugs inside, but I thought that was a separate decision. Apparently it wasn’t.

We’re just coming upon the height of summer and my house is already full of new seeds. Eric is uncomplaining, maybe because of the promise of good food for nothing, maybe because he doesn’t notice. Either way, I’m grateful. There are garlic bulbs and Sorrento broccoli seeds drying in the hall; peas and broad beans on the counter; bowls of Mom’s rosemary and our bleeding hearts tucked in corners. The rocket pods are still green, but I’m keeping an eye on them. Likewise the parsley. And once the tomatoes and peppers and squashes and beans start coming in, counter space will be a thing of the past.

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

Marion Zimmer Bradley