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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 little one is sleeping. We went into the garden together today, she and I, with the help of a sling that I’m still getting the hang of. (We decided to try a sling because our friends recommended one, but couldn’t find a satisfactory way to put the baby in it. Now that she can mostly support her own head, it’s becoming much easier.) I picked coriander and a few surprise heads of nigella sativa–I thought I’d seen those flowers earlier in the year, but they disappeared under the cover of the cilantro and sage and weeds in that area–while she looked around at the giant wormwood and the sprawling volunteer tomato plant that my dad unfortunately didn’t pull while he was here.
I’ve requested newspaper and shall be receiving it shortly. The next couple of weeks will be devoted to closing down the garden, which mainly means harvesting what I can of what’s there. That means picking a last round or two of green beans, digging the carrots and parsnips and potatoes (if there are any), cutting herbs for drying and freezing, gathering basil for the summer’s single batch of pesto, making tabbouleh with the parsley. Then pulling out the stakes and trellises, and deciding whether to move the unruly raspberry whose berries don’t seem as good as the ones on the plants in the actual raspberry patch, and then a lot of digging and stomping and spreading and watering and spreading again. The little one and I will also be taking an exploratory trip to Home Depot sometime soon, to price mulch. And then the little one will be spending a weekend at grandma’s while I put this garden into its winter crib.
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 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.)
I did no gardening yesterday as I should have; the day of work on top of the long weekend caught up with me and convinced me that staying inside and reading and lounging was okay too. But I looked out the window and noticed that the sage had flowered; so I had to grab the camera and go out.
Isn’t it pretty?
These flowers are much less pretty.
Or at least they are to me because it’s only May and why on earth do the rocket and sorrel have to bolt already? Was it that hot while I was gone? (Actually, the forecast says yes, it was. And there was no rain. But never mind that.) They still taste okay for the moment, but my garden salads are going to have to be in two parts because the lettuce remains unbolted but too small to harvest, and by the time they develop–if the weather allows them to–these will be long gone.
- 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
Six things started indoors today: two kinds of basil (same as last year, Mrs. Burns’ Lemon and Genovese), mullein, horehound, German chamomile, and American skullcap. You’d think that with a limited attention span I’d stick to food crops, but apparently not. I turn out to have this thing for perennial herbs. I love the way the wormwood and hyssop and chives and feverfew have greened upthe herb garden this spring without my having to do anything.
I have more herbs to start, all culinary–tarragon, cumin, summer savory, catmint (and more parsley, if the outdoor stuff doesn’t come up). I may or may not start some cucumbers and melons indoors–we’ll see how I feel about it in a couple of weeks. I do need to start more cotton: I’m growing it in pots anyway, since I know from last year I’ll need to bring it in at the end of the season, so I might as well start it now.
It’s supposed to rain until Thursday. Here’s hoping it perks up the carrots and lettuce and convinces them to come above ground. I’ll have to see whether the onions got washed away, too, and how the weeds are coming along. The weeds seem to be doughtier this year than last…I wonder if that’s because I’m already dreading doing it or because I was just really bad about weeding last year. I sense a potentially ever-escalating problem here. I guess that’s the problem with a cyclical hobby like this: the same issues crop up, year after year. Luckily, so do the same charms: the blooms below the pear tree, the buds on the pear and peach trees, the vivid blueness of the pulmonaria, the valiant ever-spreading raspberry suckers. (Theoretically this last is a problem rather than a charm, but I didn’t get nearly enough raspberries last year.)
Just so you know: the trick of freezing fresh herbs in a little water in ice cube trays? Works wonderfully. The other night I made a quinoa salad that normally has fresh tomatoes, dill, parsley, basil, and cilantro in it–I had to skip the tomatoes, of course, and the cilantro because I couldn’t find any (I can’t remember whether I froze any at all or if I used it all for pesto), but I used frozen dill, parsley, and basil and the salad tastes fabulous. Maybe even better, since I’m snatching a little summer from the jaws of winter. Well, spring technically–there are crocuses in my yard now, so I’m willing to concede that it might actually happen.
Yesterday I cut up homegrown carrots and broccoli for a snack tray for our Cheap Candy Day (aka Bring Your Own Excuse) party. Carol bit into a broccoli floret and said, “It tastes like Ohio!” then amended, “Maybe not Ohio. But definitely local.”
“I cut them off the stalks about twenty minutes ago,” I said, and smiled. I also made a tomato-pesto pie, which was tasty, and a big hit with the other vegetarian at the party. Unless someone else decided to try it (and there was a meat-filled lasagna available, so I doubt it), he had three pieces. He sent his girlfriend over to smell it, which seemed kind of mean to me since she can’t tolerate gluten or lactose so she couldn’t have any.
Today, I put away dried herbs. I’ve been cutting oregano and rosemary, and a little basil, and hanging it to dry in the foyer of our house all summer. I meant to put it away before the guests came, but I ran out of time. Today I took them down and got out my empty herb cans from Trader Joe’s, plus a jelly jar for the rosemary, and stood in the kitchen methodically stripping leaves. I keep the leaves as whole as I can, so that they’ll be more pungent when I crush them immediately before use. I have two cans full of oregano, which pleases me-we use it in pizza crust, so we go through it pretty quickly. I’ll have to start chopping up some parsley soon, too. And harvest the shiso seeds as soon as the lows drop into the 30s again, and bring in some hyssop and lemon balm for tea; and I think that will be that for the herb harvest, but decidedly not for its use. I’ll be tasting Ohio all winter.