Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Battles and Victories

Every morning I step on the rock in just the right spot to lever it up and free the gate to allow a tender visitation from a rather doting garden mamma. Since the tomatoes are right there, I walk down the row and pinch out the suckers. I swear I check closely every day, and every day I find just one that looks as if it had been there since the tomato first pushed out of the soil. Damn. As I go, I check on the little fruits themselves. With the rain, they swell until their skins can just barely hold them in. Then, like a pregnant belly, they pause for a moment and allow for some internal adjustment that allows them to swell just a little more. My wee tomatoes (which will hopefully become less wee) are still entirely green, but the bottoms are starting to show lighter green streaks that stretch toward the stem. I know a few more hot sunny days and the pale green will predominate the palate. Nestled at the base of the tomatoes are basil plants. Lemon, Thai, and Italian basils all transplanted during this mini-drought. They’re toughing it out like the true Mediterranean plants they are. I pinch back the flower buds as I go. The first row of tomatoes ends in ruby chard. (Honestly, could I grow anything else?) Those blazing stalks stand out in the green garden. The volunteer cilantro at the end of that row is just going to seed, but the seeds are still green. I’m keeping an eagle eye on them because Shane cooks excellent southwestern style food, and coriander is a household staple.
Weeds are slowly creeping up on me these days. Sigh. While the average weeds are a cinch to pull out of the soft deeply dug beds, the witch grass poses a stronger threat. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as pulling a foot or more of long pale suckering root from the beds. More commonly though, the root breaks off in the compacted walkways and I just know the witch grass will return in a day or two to taunt me.

As I finish my tomato rows I notice that the pumpkins seem to have been fed super food. These last two days of deep soaking rain after almost two weeks of dry hot summer have made the garden release a long breath of satisfaction, most especially the corn and squash. Try as I might, I simply can’t water as thoroughly as those big fluffy grey things hanging low in the sky. The pumpkins are not only trying to escape to either side of their bed, but they seem to be climbing straight up to the sky. The huge leaves shade the green leaf lettuces beneath and keep the majority of the weeds out. Gotta love living mulch. The next row of corn, watermelons, and radishes is less lucky, and I take a moment to pull those bold enough to show their green heads among my treasured feast. This is the second planting of corn, so they’re only about knee high. The radishes that we don’t eat are making their way into pickling jars with garlic, black pepper, and brine. Pickled delights.

My cabbages and broccoli are covered in reemay to keep the dreaded cabbage moths and their more dreaded offspring away, but I forgot that kale is in the same family. It’s a good thing I don’t really mind a few holes in my kale leaves, ‘cause these look like Swiss cheese. The kale is tucked under the trellis that I’m attempting to train my cucumbers up. The cukes don’t seem all that interested, but once they put on a post-rain growth spurt, I fully expect them to climb up and over the trellis, keeping all those nice pickling cukes out of the dirt and away from the slugs. As I move past this bed a medium sized toad hops out of the shade and I salute his hungry self. Next comes the big bed. The corn is significantly taller than I am and has tassels pushing out of the top. They waved a glorious good morning to me yesterday after the first rain any of us had seen in two long hot weeks. Overnight, and this is not an exaggeration, they extended a foot of leaf up and exposed their tassels. We eagerly await a feast of corn on the cob. Shane checks the baby corns every day. The summer and butternut squashes underneath the corn keep the soil shady and a little moister. These guys have really taken off. The two stray watermelons in this row are flowering. We may have melons after all. And my late planting peas have just poked their heads up out of the soil, ready to climb the towering corn stalks.

Now I walk all the way back to the tomatoes and explore the garden on the other side. The spring peas are pretty much done. I need to pull the plants, but I guess I was hoping they were still going to make some more snacks for us. We miss them. The peppers are on the sunny side of the peas and the cayenne leaves almost brush each other. That’s the goal, right? As Ed Smith taught me, peppers like to hold hands. My carrots have been, well, frustrating. They are finally up. All, that is, except one type which only germinated one seed of the three rows I planted! Of course I didn’t keep track of which type I planted where, so your guess is as good as mine. The carrots have had their initial thinning. The next will yield baby carrots for our hummus, potatoes, pickle jars, but not, sadly, for our peas. I passed by the potatoes on my way to the carrots. 
They have been remarkably low maintenance. For an established garden, I was fully prepared to do battle with the beetles, but those aren’t the beetles I have done battle with. In fact, I haven’t seen a single potato beetle this season. After we hilled them, I have pretty much left the potatoes alone, except to pull the occasional plant for some tender baby fingerlings. At the end of the carrot row my summer spinach is up and putting out baby leaves. We harvested the bib lettuces that were here already. They were so tender and delicious. 

One of the triangle beds housed our early spring spinach, which I am now allowing to go to seed along with the johnny jump-ups that we don't eat. I’m going to save as much seed as I can. Next to that are my broccoli plants. They’re covered, but who knows if I will be able to successfully keep the worms out of them. Fingers crossed.

Past the spinaches I check the very last row. The early beets reached roasting size by the fourth of July! Those that we left in the bed to size up a bit more have been rolled over by the nasturtiums which are going WILD! They are crowding out everything. Their sunny, peppery addition to salads is, however, very welcome. Under the row cover are my storage cabbages. The goal is to make kraut. Back toward the gate are my mid-summer beets interplanted with yellow storage onions that are sizing up nicely and a couple rows of scallions. The worst of my weeds are in this section. Some unknown, yet deeply noxious weed lives just outside the fence and sends mocking tendrils under the walkways where they pop up among my treasured onions. I’m reluctant to pull the whole root out, for fear of disturbing the onions, so I pinch off the leaves and curse the parents.

From here I turn back toward the dreaded bean trellis. The beans are coming on fast and furious, and furious is exactly how I feel at the damn Japanese beetles that are leaving just the browned ribs of my lush bean leaves. Every morning and every afternoon I pick as many as I can find and feed them to the chickens. I began to suspect that this wasn’t working as well as I hoped when I saw a bunch fly away and begin merrily chomping my grape vines. Then I dunked them in water and rubbing alcohol. This killed the beetles, but seemed to do little for the population at large. I finally broke down and bought a pheromone bag trap. Wonder of wonders! Miracle of miracles! Not only is the bag heavy with the dead bodies of the horrid evil munchers, but I found only a handful of beetles on my bean plants. These few I pick as before and bake in a plastic bottle in the hot sun. Science has done some wonders for agriculture, just as it has created some horrors. So I am beginning to see a glimmer of hope on this muggy night as the rain pounds down and thirsty roots pump that water back skyward. Perhaps we will have dilly beans this winter after all.


  1. WE WANT MORE!!!!!

  2. inspiring writing, ruby! xo barb