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.

As someone at work said today, I’m famous!

Check it out.

(Actually, it’s Chloe who’s famous. She’s the reason I got into the feature.)

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.

Chloe and I have been eating raspberries off the bush for several days now. They’re planted along the little fence between the back door and the garage, some red, some golden. The golden ones are milder and sweeter, and also ripened first. At first there were just a few, and I’d have one and give Chloe the rest. Then it was one for her, one for me. Now she gets the golden ones and I get the red ones, and if there are enough left over I bring some inside for Eric. The raspberry season is young; I think there’s going to be plenty for Eric.

This is exactly how raspberries should be eaten. We had a patch when I was growing up, and Dad would send my brother and me outside with a four-quart bowl. “Pick raspberries,” he said. “Watch out for the bees.” We watched. We picked. We filled up the bowl, besides eating some ourselves. That’s what raspberry picking should be like: bounteous plenty, with a red-stained mouth, and the prospect of more every day. The state of almost being tired of raspberries, only you can’t because they’re raspberries. I’m so glad my raspberries are finally grown up the way they’re supposed to be, and I’m so glad I’m sharing it with Chloe, even if she’s too young to remember right now. Wherever we live, we’ll have raspberry patches just like this.

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.

My tomatoes are big and glorious and crowding the windowsill. My peppers aren’t looking bad (which is the best I’ve ever been able to say about home-seeded peppers). My cucurbits and flowers are coming up. And the ten-day forecast suggests that it probably won’t frost, which suggests I’m probably safe to plant, since our last-frost date is in just a little over ten days. (Besides, I have some plastic covers from the Christmas before last. Or birthday? They were a gift, anyway.)

So…I think it’s time to venture into warm-weather gardening. It would be nice if Eric would mow the lawn so I could get to the garden without feeling like I’m on a safari, but I’ll manage. (It’s not really his fault. He got horribly sick and there were several heavy rains while he was out of commission, so everything is overgrown–for one thing, my front bed has sprung into being full-formed, like Athena.)

I haven’t managed to weed, certainly not since all the parsnips started coming up, so that’s first. That and hardening off. And counting my poles to see if I’ve got enough to string up the tomatoes this year. Some break every year, but I’m planting fewer than in previous years, too. Also figuring out where I’m going to plant beans.

This year does seem more ad-lib than previous years. I’m liking it.

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 have done so much since last writing! I mean, not a lot objectively, but a lot for me for the garden for spring. I went to a neighborhood gardeners’ meet; I filled in part of the brick path; I replanted garlic (per a promise with Carol); I hardened off brassicas and alliums and marigolds; I planted up tomatoes; I started cucurbits and flowers and a seed-embedded Christmas card we got; I uprooted the wormwood and lemon balm; I watched the rain fall onto my garden and through my garage roof.

And I’d have written about some or all of it if I hadn’t gotten food poisoning. It was relatively mild, meaning I only threw up once and recovered in about two days. I don’t know what caused it, but i suspect some leftover bean dip. It was homemade bean dip, so I can’t even say anything about the sorry state of modern food hygiene. Pity, really.

So I will try to catch up over the next few days here. We’ll see how that goes, though, since the rain is finally supposed to stop and that means I may be able to get out and do the myriad things I’ve been intending to do outdoors. It also means that I’m going to have to brace myself for the new weeds grown up in the luxurious dampness, but I knew that was coming.

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

Marion Zimmer Bradley