Garden, End of July

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July 28, 2011 by Leah

We’re home! I felt surprisingly excited – even patriotic – to get back to the States last weekend. I was even enjoying being in L.A., and telling myself to make the most of where I live while I live here.

Five days on and I’m not sure if I still feel that way or if I’m just jet lagged. Anyway.

Three weeks away from a summer garden is a long time. In fact, I read a book on the plane from Zurich to Philly in which there was a character who hated traveling internationally because she hated leaving her garden. (I’m not there yet. If/when I get dairy animals, travel will become a problem – at least until my children are responsible enough to be left to tend the farm. Maybe I will run a farm B&B to entice interesting travelers to our location. Or start a small business that specializes in pairing housesitters who have homesteading skills with farmers who have wanderlust.) That said, our garden survived just fine. We had a friend staying with Duke, so we came back to a happy, healthy dog, a clean house, and a bowl full of fresh-picked garden produce on the kitchen counter. (Thanks to that bowl and some eggs we found in the fridge, I managed to cook dinner the night we got back, which was a great relief.) This was above and beyond – I just wanted the dog to be happy – but apparently Ted is an excellent and conscientious housesitter, as well as being Aaron’s coworker and friend.

I went out to water and inspect the garden as soon as we returned on Saturday night, but it was too dark to see much. On Sunday morning I discovered the tomatoes were ripening with alacrity and we had so many serrano and poblano peppers the bushes were groaning. I found okra, quinoa, some cucumbers, and – best of all – three watermelons. One (a Crimson Sweet) is a tad smaller than a volleyball and two (Black Diamonds) are almost the size of softballs. Apparently the weather warmed up while we were gone.

Several of the yellow onions were begging to be harvested, and even though all the potato plants were dead and gone, Aaron raked through the grass-infested dirt in the potato buckets and discovered a few good-sized potatoes and several marble-to-golf-ball sized potatoes. (I whipped all the potatoes and served them with sesame-honey-ginger crusted ahi and avocado salsa on Sunday night. So good.)

Lest you think this abundance sounds too good to be true, the garden was also seriously overgrown. (And the corn was dead, making the wind blowing through the corn stalks sound even creepier than it did before we left.) After spending a little time each day ripping and clipping (handheld grass shears are no match for grasses the size of small tree branches), the garden is finally at a point where looking out at it doesn’t make me cringe.

It is also at a point where I need to do some serious research on seed saving and some serious planning for my next garden (aka learning from my mistakes). We still aren’t sure where our next move will take us, or for how long. I have a feeling the length of time we expect to stay wherever we end up will inform how much work I put into a garden. (Actually, that seems like a bit of a cop-out. I very much admire Barbara Kingsolver for leaving a trail of asparagus beds she never got to harvest as she moved around the country.) Assuming the best (a large lawn, a three-to-five year timeline), I’m going to want to kill a huge area of the lawn and then build up raised beds once all the grass is gone. Not killing the grass between and around my garden beds has proved to be somewhat of a challenge, as the stuff will find a way over, under, around, or through whatever barriers you think you have installed. I also want to give my plants (particularly squashes, collards, cucumbers, and melons) room to sprawl, although I enjoyed the experimental aspect of intermingling crops in a small space (Bed 2) this year. I will also do better with aesthetics. The marigolds and poppies I planted are lovely but they’re thick and clumpy and the marigolds, particularly, could have been better planned as visual and insect barriers.

Finally, all my plans to keep records of when things were planted and when they sprouted and when they were harvestable and how much the harvest weighed kind of went out the window. Partly it was being gone, partly it was occasional laziness, and partly it was the fact that we have one of those small plastic kitchen scales that measures up to a pound (I weigh tomatoes individually and then do arithmetic whenever I make tomato sauce), and a bathroom scale. (Two, actually, but one is broken and serves as Aaron’s occasional electronics-tinkering project.) If I am going to seriously pursue good record keeping, I will need better tools. But, moving will mean many changes in the garden, and procuring a produce scale will probably not be my top worry.

Main garden beds after some serious bushwhacking.

Pink and orange poppies.

Serranos and poblanos. Destined to become fermented hot sauce.

A tangle of tomatoes.

So that's what okra looks like on the bush.

Black Diamond Watermelons. Slightly larger than baseballs.

A Crimson Sweet. Slightly less than volleyball size.

Quinoa. For reals.

Is this how one braids and dries onions?


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