The last two hours of light.

I’ve never so enjoyed two hours of pulling weeds. With our dog on a longer rope to wag his way to greet any wandering garden neighbors, my big floppy new garden hat, and my mud-stained leather gloves, I squatted in the garden and pulled weed after rooted weed and lobbed it at the stone wall. The sprawling kind with the fragile arms. The tall ones with the white pillar flowers. The ones like those, but deep purple. The ivy. The frilly crawling ones. One after another, the hit the wall and fell to the earth. Soon there was a spongy bed of pulled weeds along the wall and a clear patch of earth between the peppers and sweet potatoes where for months there had been a growing bed of foliage.

Now the fish peppers are free to stretch their stripey fruit and variegated leaves toward the sweet potatoes.

And the sweet potatoes, they have a bit of a head start on the reaching-toward-the-peppers…

With the weeds gone, I marched to the tool hut for a shovel and wheelbarrow. Our gardens are supplied with a regular pile of mulch that composts nicely. The hut was sans shovel. It was then that I remembered the hut had been sans shovel for months. That’s ok. I’d learned last time that a wheelbarrow tilted just-so with a hoe to pull the mulch worked as well as I needed.

I tilted the wheelbarrow just-so. I pulled the mulch into it. Tilted it level. Backed it up off the mound and…nada. The wheelbarrow wouldn’t move. Perhaps I was in a hole? Check…nope. No hole. A completely flat tire? Yeah, one of those.

I went looking in the tool hut. There were two new contraptions. They’re like buckets, with tall backs like chairs, that have handles in the back and wheels on the front. Handbarrow? Not sure of the actual name, but it would have to do the trick. It worked surprisingly well! It only held about half of a wheelbarrow’s worth at a time, but was easier on my shoulders than a wheelbarrow. I don’t think it would work outside of a well tended path area, but for a place such as our gardens, it seems kind of perfect.

I hadn’t planned on watering, but with the triple digit heat before this “cool spell” and more heat expected, I figured the last hoorah of tomatoes could use the extra juice.

The tomatoes are definitely slowing down on production in this heat. Last year production didn’t make it until July, and this year the later heat and additional rainfall (additional? I mean the fact that there was rainfall at all) has them still going for at least the next week or two.

As much as they’re slowing down in production, they’re still growing. The camera is sitting on the top of a T-post, five feet tall.

They’re getting taller. Last summer my Cherry Chadwick vines were 15 feet long by the time the first frost hit in November. As they get taller, they point out the weaknesses in my trellising plan. These aren’t the tallest vines, they’re just the ones that have yet to fallen over. The others have all fallen over. They don’t fall sideways, because of the twine. They instead fall down the line, between the lengths of twine. This keeps the picking areas as clear as they have been, but it creates such a deeply thick jungle of vines and leaves, that the fruit is hidden from view. A little tomato hide and seek.

I know the Cherry Chadwicks, and the Black Princes will make it through the summer with careful water management and send a second harvest into the world after the heat of the summer has passed. I am excited to see if any other varieties do the same.

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Carrot Lace.

Queen Anne’s Lace was my favorite flower as a child. It grows wild in the Willamette Valley. Some years plentiful, some years scarce, but always it grows. The center blossom, usually, a dark blue or purple. Occasionally, a scarlet center (those are the ones with extra magic, you know.) I loved those blossoms for their delicate nature, their bold center, and their stubborn stems. More than once I would try and pick one only to end up on my butt in the dust with the flower only slightly worse for wear from the battle.

Even the fact that eventually it meant picking cockle-burr after cockle-burr from my socks when the petals turned to seeds didn’t turn me off to their brass nature cloaked in dainty appearance.

And so, when one carrot, the largest carrot, the center-most carrot, decided to shoot to three feet tall overnight, I let it.

It lacks the bold center and the gentle upward curvature, but hits the soft spot in my heart all the same. My hypothesis is, I didn’t plant cockle-burrs to get carrots, so perhaps, if I’m lucky, I’ll have smooth tiny black seeds in a little while. My first saved carrot seeds. If I’m lucky.

Delicious homecoming!

Coming home is always so nice. Aside from DH and the boys being here, it has so many reasons that I love coming back. It smells like DH’s cooking. It has the right pillow. I have gardens to walk through.

More reasons?

Sprouts!

This is the cauliflower pan. As many varieties as I like to grow of peppers and tomatoes, so far I’ve only grown one variety of cauliflower – Amazing.

And the delicious part of coming home?

Bell peppers from the garden! Orange and purple, even.

And those tomatoes? Still going strong. We broke the 40 lb mark and still can’t keep up. I’m taking more to work tomorrow to give away, and still have too many. What to do? The internet says you can freeze cherry tomatoes, which is about all I have time for currently. So as much as I’d like to try my hand at canning tomatoes for the first time, I didn’t grow any typical canning varieties and honestly don’t feel like blowing up the kitchen with my canning shenanigans. (If anyone knows how to keep the kitchen moderately clean while canning, I am all ears.)

So, I removed the stems, and put them in a strainer for a quick bath.

I gently rolled them on a tea towel to dry, placed them on a cookie sheet, and started to put them in the freezer…ooops! No room! So I made room by taking out the peaches I just froze and putting them in a ziplock for longer storage.

Oh, and making sure your cookie sheet actually fits in the freezer? Good idea BEFORE  you put the rolly-polly tomatoes all over it. Also, because you don’t own a cookie sheet with edges, right? Right. (I don’t.)

So carefully tuck the cookie sheet into the freezer…and then! The chicken doesn’t fit. Luckily those tomatoes are rolly-polly! So I rolled them over, and the chicken made friends.

But not all the food is a success. This was my second year attempting melons, and my first year with melons setting on the vines. I think I may have planted them out too late though. They’re ripening while still tiny-sized. One Tigger Melon ripened and went bad in a day. The other? Ripened at the size of a golf ball. And this poor guy, a Kansas Melon, was growing nicely and we hit 102 this weekend. Boom. Ripe and bug-infested. But doesn’t the flesh look lovely?

The Farmer’s Market here is a good gauge for me as to when things should be ripe. I try and work backwards from when things at the Farmer’s Market are available to when I should be sowing similarly plants. The melons were ripe here about a month ago. I direct sowed these melons…where are the notes…that I didn’t make on the melons! Ha! My timeline shows that I intended to sow them March 15th. With how this year has gone, I probably sowed them about March 30th. So next year I’ll start them indoors Feb 1st and see how that goes. We have gotten a freeze in March once in the last nine years (for a few hours) but this year we didn’t have a freeze after…December?

And today we hit 106.

Home, hot, sweet, delicious, home!

 

P.S. If anyone remembers to remind me, I do not care for Jiffy Organic Seed Sowing Mix. It’s like powdered dirt it’s SO light and fluffy. I couldn’t recall if I liked Jiffy and didn’t like MiracleGro’s Organic, or vice versa. I’ve just re-learned my preference, but that doesn’t mean I’ll remember it.

Pepper lessons, basil confusion, and a landscape raspberry.

I spent a four-day weekend on a business trip and arrived home just in time to do some more work before ordering some take-out and hitting the gardens. The light was fading fast, and the insects were emerging with even greater speed. The fire ants had once again relocated, and I had once again been too stubborn to don real shoes and received two more bites for my troubles. I had remembered to leave the bug spray in the car though, and escaped with nary a mosquito bite. DH managed only one fire ant bite, no mosquito bites, but took the cake with a mean mystery bite on his back.

We were once again rewarded with pound after pound of fresh heirloom tomatoes! DH struck up an easy conversation with a neighboring gardener, and we managed to send her home with a few of his heaping double handfuls of the smaller varieties. She’s raking in buckets of apple-sized tomatoes herself (we politely declined any.)

What about non-tomato news?

Things I’ve learned about peppers this year:

  • Two cayenne plants is more than enough to make an attempt at a ristra for the first time
  • Two jalapeno plants is not enough for DH’s appetite.
  • One fish pepper plant will make more fish peppers than you know what to do with (assuming you know what to do with a fish pepper, which…I don’t yet.)
  • Two Anaheim pepper plants is perfect.
  • Two poblano plants is half as much as necessary for prepping portions to make chili with in the winter.
  • One Chinese Five Pepper is one too many (apparently something likes to devour every last bit of leaf on the poor thing as soon as the peppers are close to ripe! That, and I’m not sure if they’re ripe when they’re purple (their first color), white (their second color), or if I’m supposed to wait until they’re dried and shriveled and orange…)
  • We both miss the magic of the Czechoslovakian Black Pepper.
  • Purple and orange bell peppers are magical when combined in a dish. One of each is not nearly enough!

Things I still don’t know enough about to help thrive? Basil tops the list. I can get it to germinate. I can get it about two inches tall. I can keep it alive if I buy it…until it gets mealy bugs, gets woody, keeps over, or bolts immediately.

In the “bolts immediately” category is this lovely African Blue Basil. Not a week after planting it in the backyard bed (under a shade cloth!) it flowers. It’s lovely to look at, and perhaps I should reconsider basil as a landscape plant for the bees instead of a seasoning for us.

Speaking of landscape-plants-that-I-would-like-to-some-day-eat-from, my raspberry is happier this year (it’s third year) than last!

What looks like a squash bug, but maybe isn’t?

Imagine a squash bug. Or a giant stink bug. Or a huge box elder.

Paint it mostly brown.

Give its rear legs some leaf-shaped bits.

Stretch its antennae really long and make them light yellowish for the ends, with two thin dark bands further back along the brown lengths.

And a light stripe short-ways across its shoulders.

Any ideas?

(I wish I’d had my camera!)

A leaf-footed bug (leave it to me to complicate things by thinking it would have a less-obvious name!) I really don’t have the stomach for crunching bugs still. I wonder if I should just start carrying soapy water in a jar every time I visit the garden? Like Bob’s goldfish Gill, in a jar around my neck? But then I’d end up with dead bugs in a jar around my neck…and that’s a little weirder than even I need to get.

I’ve lately found the perfect time of day to go snail-hunting in the garden. It’s about two hours after that side of the house goes into the shade that the snails move out for their dinner, but it’s not yet too dark to see them. I have a giant old honey jar full of soapy water and pick them up and drop them in. They particularly like the section of garden with my beets and carrots. This last trip out snail-hunting, I noticed something new – on the far side of the bed the snails had forgone a tasty meal of carrot tops and beet bottoms in favor of an old dried up squash vine. Those snails, I left alone. Sure, they may move over to my carrots and beets tomorrow, and if they do, into the soap they’ll go, but until then I’m happy to let them turn dried up vine into snail poop.

What else I learned? Be sure to empty the snail soapy water when you’re done. Rotting snails smell something awful after boiling in the afternoon heat the next day!

Another battle I’ve decided not to wage? The caterpillars on the broccoli.

I sowed some Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli late last September. It’s been about four feet tall since January. It didn’t beat the cauliflower in the race to make heads to eat. Even though it was called “Early” I gave it the benefit of the doubt and waited. And waited. And here we are nearly in July and still – no broccoli. (I did notice the seed catalog I purchased it from has since renamed it “Purple Sprouting Broccoli.”) So I figured that if I wasn’t going to get to eat any broccoli, the least I could do was let the moths have at it.

There are probably a hundred caterpillars on it at the moment, and while it may make more sense to pull the whole thing and throw it in the compost bin that’s baking away, it’s made a miraculous improvement in my chard leaving it there as fodder for their hungry little mouths. So I thought I planted broccoli. Early broccoli at that. What I actually planted was some architecturally interesting, purple stemmed caterpillar food. I’m at peace with that.

Just like I’m at peace with the fact that each year a monarch caterpillar (or three) feast upon my potted parsley. It grows back, and I’m not eating it right now, so why shouldn’t they? And isn’t it just amazing how of all the plants in the yard, in the neighborhood, in the world, that there are some insects that only eat one plant – and that they find enough of that one plant to survive? It’s impressive and fascinating.

Beginnings and ends.

I think I’m still getting used to cycles in this part of the globe. As a child, the pensive hours, the long days indoors, and the ends came in the winter months before the beginnings of spring. The holidays were there to keep you company. With family, with baking, with decorating, with giggling cousins or parents’ friends’ stories, the long grey days seemed warm (and the wood stove helped!) There was candlelight and cookie icing to brighten the end of the year and hold everyone over until the daffodils broke ground. Until the green shone through the drizzle. Until the beginnings began again.

This part of the world, you get your cabin fever in the summer. You get addicted to the AC. You avoid the UV. You make your alphabet soup with different letters, but it’s still alphabet soup. It occurred to me today, that as I finish harvesting the carrots, the beets, the chard, the beans. As I finish harvesting the more sensitive families of food, it’s time to sow the seeds for the fall. Minus the heat-lovers and the cool-friendly, the rotation is about the same – what grows in the spring grows again in the fall, except here the die-out is over the summer.

So the onions, beets, and carrots will begin again in October, even though they’re also ending now.

The peppers and tomatoes are still going strong. They are loving the heat, but will soon lose their taste for it when it averages another 10 degrees higher each day. As they end, their seeds are dried, labeled, and stored for sowing just after Christmas.

It’s an adjustment, to find new-growth withdrawals as summer officially begins with the solstice tomorrow, but I make do.

It’s simply odd. When the winter doldrums are setting in for most gardens I hear about, read about, or dream about, they are ever-surprised at the winter growth going on in my beds. It only makes sense that when other gardens I hear about, read about, and dream about are in full growth swing with their flowers blossoming, their growth beginning in the summer: I have the same surprise, the same envy.

And so, I help new life into the world. I bring the sunshine in. I sow the seeds of the next cooler season and watch hope grow. Hope for evening breezes, for light sunshine kisses, for days so glorious you beg them not to end.

This time, hope takes the form of Lemon Basil, Cumin, Dark curly leaf parsley, and always – always – a volunteer squash.