Covid Days-Seed Shortages, and a Tomato Tutorial

Apparently, the next commodity in short supply, after toilet paper and hand sanitizer is …. Drum roll, please … vegetable seeds! That’s right, friends, the New York Times reports a seed buying frenzy across the country. If you haven’t already made your plans for the garden of your dreams, you might be behind the curve.

It’s unclear if people are buying seeds as fast as they can because they have nothing better to do than work outside in the garden, or if they actually fear for their food security and are wisely planning for the future. Regardless of the reason, seeds are in high demand and many seed companies are running a wait time of several weeks. While I’m delighted that the country is turning towards the dirt for solace during these crazy times, I’m equally delighted that I ordered my seeds during the garden doldrums of January.

I have a confession to make. I’m a seed addict! I love seeds. I actually have card catalogs (yes, plural) to store my seeds alphabetically. I have a box specifically for bean seeds, and another for pea and corn seeds (seeds that are too big to fit in the card catalogs, obviously) When I get those color glossy catalogs from the seed companies like Baker Creek and Kitchen Garden and Territorial, I spend hours reading descriptions and oogling the pictures of luscious shiny vegetables. “Vegetable porn” My girlfriend calls it. I don’t know about that, but I will confess that I save the catalogs.

Six of the 18 types of tomatoes I’ll start this year.

While I’m confessing, I should also tell you that I’m a seed snob. Not all seeds are created equal. The tenants of slow living mandate that when I evaluate my purchasing, I regard provenance, equity, sustainability, history and justice with at least as much weight as I give to economy and facility. I choose seeds that are unique, rare, and unusual, not only because they are interesting to grow, but because my dollars promote the safekeeping of those seeds, and enhance the lives of the small farmers who grow them. My seed dollars promote biodiversity and global health. GMO and hybrid seeds that are mass produced in colossal greenhouses not only contribute to global warming, but make vegetables that can’t even reproduce themselves. You couldn’t save and re-grow those seeds even if you wanted to. They may cost a few cents less, but the hidden cost to the planet isn’t worth it.

Seed are truly miraculous. They are the great multipliers. One seed can produce hundreds, if not thousands, of new seeds. They hold secrets. Different kinds of seeds need different conditions to germinate. Some need fire. Some need freezing. Some need sunlight and some need darkness. They contain life. While we can alter them, we still cannot create them. Without seeds there is no life.

I buy new seeds every year. In the past few years I have been learning about traditional seed saving techniques, but with the vast array of amazing varieties that come out in the catalogs each year, I feel like buying and planting rare and heritage seeds is a way of promoting and protecting biodiversity. Every year I buy something I have never grown before. This year it’s artichoke.

If you are looking for seeds and can’t buy them from a seed company, you still have might options. Try looking in a gift catalog. Often companies that sell Christmas gifts offer gifts for gardeners, and may have kits for herbs, lettuces or other groups of vegetables. Try to contact your local library. Many libraries have a seed exchange, and you may be able to convince your librarian to get some seeds and leave them out for you. Ask your friends who have gardens. Most gardeners don’t use all their seeds each year, and most are willing to share.

For those of you who do have seeds, you might be wondering what to do with them. I’m starting tomato seeds in the following pictures, but you can modify this tutorial for any seeds you want to start growing indoors.

Vegetable seeds fall into roughly two categories: those to plant outside, and those to start inside. Almost all seeds can be planted right in the dirt, once the weather cooperates, but many need a longer growing season than we have in the Northeast, so to give those plants an advantage, we plant them indoors first. They include the brassica family, (cabbage, kale, broccoli, etc.) the cucurbitas (squash, melon, cucumber etc.) the solanales, or nightshade family, with the exception of potatoes (tomato, pepper, eggplant etc.) If your seeds fall into one of these three families, keep reading.

You know those horrid plastic clam shells cut lettuce comes in? Use them to germinate your seeds. They provide a perfect environment for new life.

Sprinkle the seeds on top of a moist seed starter mix, or potting soil if that is all you have. In a pinch, dig some dirt up from your garden (but make sure it isn’t cold). It should be light, not packed down. A rule of thumb for seed starting is that you need to cover the seed as deep as the circumference of the seed itself. For my tomato seeds, this means 1/4 inch or less. Loosely cover the seeds with a layer of moist soil commensurate with it’s size, water lightly, (soil should be damp but not mushy), close the lid and leave in a warm, sunny place. If you have a heat mat, place the seed containers on it to start the germination faster. Unless you like surprises, DON’T FORGET TO LABEL!

Voila! Baby Tomatoes. Next they will need little pots to grow in. You can use pretty much any container with a hole in the bottom, like a plastic bottle, paper cup, Tupperware, ceramic pot. Anything. Choose a pot that will be able to hold your plant until it’s time to put it into the garden. I use leftover plastic seed pots from the greenhouse that I re-use each year. Potting soil is a good medium. Pack the soil in firmly, but not hard.

Next, move the babies to their new homes. Make a deep hole in the center of the pot. Use a tool like a bamboo marker (or chopstick, butter knife, pencil) to loosen the soil and lift the seedling from the bottom. Use your fingertips on the stem of the plant. IMPORTANT- Don’t pull. Don’t touch the roots. Don’t touch the leaves. Separate it from it’s siblings, and gently place it into the hole you have created for it. If needed, poke the roots down into the hole with the tool. Gently pat the soil around the stem. If you bend a plant, discard it and try again.

Tomato plants can grow roots from their stems, so you can put them into the hole deeply. Each time it gets transplanted, bury part of the stem to give it added stability. This is not true of other plants.

Once they are all tucked in, sprinkle them with water to settle the soil around the roots. They may look sad, but they will perk up in a day or two.

Different plants have different needs once they are started. Warm weather plants like tomato and pepper will benefit from having a light on them for at least 12 hours a day. Special bulbs can be purchased at a hardware store for use in a regular lamp. I use an ultra thin LED panel that sells for about 20 dollars on Amazon. The brassicas will not need extra light or warmth, and it’s still a bit early to start the squashes in New England, so I recommend starting out with tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.

This is the kind I use.

For the next few weeks you should check them daily and water as needed. If you have started tomatoes, let them dry out a bit in between watering. A little stress will help them develop strong roots. This is true once they are planted in the garden as well. Over watering will result in weaker plants and less fruit, but never let them get so dry that they wilt.

Soon your tomato babies will look like this.

If you have questions about specific seeds, or just want to share your experiences with seed starting, I’m happy to answer. Comment below or find me on Instagram. Good luck with your new seeds and happy gardening!

Covid Days- The Second Chicken

I have always defined the quality of my life in terms of my choices. Can’t take your car? Call an Uber. Hitch a ride with a friend. Take the bus. Walk. Ride a bike. Heck, roller-skate if you feel like it. These are all possible choices. But what if you don’t have a friend? Or a bike. Or money for the bus. Or working legs.

A few days ago I went to the store to get a cabbage. Sounds like the start to a pretty boring story, right? It is. There was no cabbage. And no Napa cabbage. No radicchio. No escarole. No romaine, bok choy or endive. Nothing that resembled a cabbage. Neither was there lettuce, nor carrots, nor vegetables of any kind. As I stood looking at the empty racks, I realized that I had to change my plans for dinner. I had no choice but to make something else.

No choice. This was the first Covid-19 blow to my life.

I consider my life to be rich, because I have many choices. I can choose how I spend my time, for the most part. We can choose where we want to live, within our means. I can choose my work, which doctor I go to, which stores I shop at, who I vote for, and a million other choices that make my life seem rich and easy compared to some. When it comes to food, I might even have too many choices. If I get an idea about what I want to cook, there is no stopping me. Forget about what’s in the cabinet; I’ll drive to the Asian market forty minutes away to get fresh turmeric, if the recipe calls for it. That’s beyond living richly. Than’s just spoiled.

I was unhappy with no cabbage, but I recovered. I chose my dinner, a chicken, took it to the check out, and waited behind a woman and her partner, both in masks and gloves. Together they rang up 3 carts and more than 700.00 in groceries. Including 3 cabbages. I watched as they proceeded to pack them all into their fancy car with out of state plates.

Will a Land Rover full of groceries save them from the Corona virus?

I admit I was a little miffed. Interestingly, my first thought wasn’t to tell them off, it was to go get another chicken. But a chicken instead of a cabbage is not a hard choice. After a minute, I decided that a chicken was a lovely dinner, and I was grateful that it was available to me.

I think I am well prepared for food shortages, although there has been no evidence that I’ll need to be. I am able to grow much of my own food, and it is almost the growing season here in the Northeast. Our family hunts, and I have food reserves from previous harvests. What I am not prepared for is the idea of hardship. As was evidenced by my irritation (ok, anger) at not being able to buy a cabbage. I am unaccustomed to having limited choices.

My out of state grocery shoppers chose to hoard food. Their plan was to save themselves by buying all the food they could carry and going into isolation. They hope that the virus will pass them by. Nothing wrong with that. Good luck to them. I hope for their sake that when they come out of isolation in a few weeks to get more food, they get a pass again. And that there is still food to be had.

In the end I chose to pass on the second chicken. If this is the apocalypse, a second chicken probably isn’t going to save me. A second chicken is only going to guarantee that someone else isn’t going to have a chicken when they want one for dinner. I’ll have two, but they’ll have none. I decided to pull on my Corona pants, tighten my emotional belt, and not only accept, but welcome this limiting of my choices. I’m going to chose to be more frugal, in lifestyle and in material things. I am choosing to welcome a smaller life.

It doesn’t seem like the corona virus is giving any of us much of a choice. No matter how rich your life seems, no amount of wealth, or food seems to prevent it (although I hear it can get you a test). But that doesn’t mean we don’t have choices. We can chose to be people who support our neighbors. We can chose to be kind, helpful and compassionate. We can chose to consider those who have fewer choices than us. We can chose to leave the second chicken.

Not a bad dinner!

Panic, Peas and Pistou

Hi Friends

Welcome to springtime in the New England! It is 70 degrees today on March 8th in Northwest Connecticut, and in order to mitigate my rising alarm at the wicked respiratory cold they call Covid-19 racing across the globe, I’ve decided to take a break from the news. It’s time to pull on my gloves (the dirt protection kind, not the medical grade germ protection kind) and venture into the garden. Since cold season clearly isn’t over, and the best thing for a bad cold is a bowl of hot soup, I have my favorite spring soup in mind.

Pistou is a Provencal pesto of sorts, made with basil, garlic and oil. It is used primarily in a northern Italian dish called Soupe au Pistou. When I think Pistou, I don’t think of basil as much as I think of fresh peas, which is one of the necessary ingredients for this light, bright, healthy Mediterranean soup made with pasta, beans and spring vegetables. For Pistou later, I need to plan now. Click on the link under the photo for one of my favorite French versions from The French Barn.

St. Patrick’s day has always been my rule of thumb for the time to plant peas. In this region it is generally the time when the soil can first be worked, and in the past I’d wait for a sunny day soon afterwards. But the times they are a changin’, as they say. Climate change has done away with the regular patterns, and we have to adapt. For my purposes today, the sooner the ground is thawed, the better.

Different pea types to plant

When I chose my peas from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company in January, I was, as always, enchanted by the color glossy pictures and delicious descriptions of the vegetables. As always, I couldn’t decide on which varietals to choose, so I chose several. I may be sad when the weather warms and there is no room left in my garden for the tomatoes and eggplant!

Peas are very easy to plant. They love cool weather, they can handle a light frost, and they don’t mind soils in the 30’s. This makes them the perfect spring vegetable for our inclement Northeast weather. Once your soil is loose and has been amended with compost, simply poke them in the ground with your finger to a depth of about 1 inch. Space them 3″ apart in rows at least 24″ apart.

A type of netting for pea trellis

Most peas grow in vines, and need something to cling to as they grow. A trellis of some sort, either a net attached to stakes, such as I use, or a mesh fence or a woven panel will help them grow tall and make harvesting easy. It should be at least 5 feet tall, or higher, depending on the variety. Some peas can grow 10 feet tall! New this year for me is a bush type varietal called Kelvedon Wonder. Topping out at 18″, it needs no staking, and therefore even less work than usual.

Bush type peas varietal

A word of warning: New pea shoots and leaves are a favorite of some songbirds, and if found, they will peck at the leaves until there isn’t much green left for the new plant to photosynthesize. If you find your tiny new leaves are getting eaten, it’s wise to cover them with row cover for protection until they are strong enough to withstand a bit of abuse. A cover is also in order if a heavy snow is expected.

Deliciousness!

When I think of those first fat pods of sugar snaps dripping off the vines, and then lightly sauteed snow peas in butter, and finally thumb-sized shelling peas bursting with flavor to store for the winter, I’m ready to get them started. It’s easy to sit inside and panic, to worry and watch the numbers and listen to the talking heads squawk fear and discord, anger and accusations. Panic is antithetical to the gardener. If a gardener falls into the mindset that the world is ending and all is lost, he/she/they will no longer garden; hence they cease to be a gardener. Without a future, there is no point in a garden. The act of gardening is an act of hope. In fact, gardening is the natural response to fear and panic. It provides stability, a plan, future security and a firm foundation in a hope for better things. Let’s focus on what is important. Try to stay home. Try to stay healthy. Eat soup. Plant peas. Sow hope. Go put some seeds in the ground and see if you don’t feel better about your world. I dare you.

A Slow Food experience

Everything happens in it’s own season.

Seeds fall, sprouts grow, flowers bloom, fruit ripens, matter decomposes. Life happens. Especially with weeds. Those invisible weed seeds are just hiding out everywhere, waiting to pop their tiny green heads into the world and thwart us gardeners. But even tomatoes will grow where tomato seeds have fallen, whether we want them to or not, if the conditions are favorable to them. Life is undeniable.

As gardeners, we try to orchestrate conditions to be favorable to our needs, the needs of producing food and flowers. Our actions can have some influence over the seasons of things, to a certain extent. We force seeds that wouldn’t normally sprout by adjusting the amount of light, the temperature, the humidity, even the wind. We trick things into growing outside of their seasons, even outside of their regions. We grow them under cover to protect them. We grow them in planters to contain them. We grow them in cloth or plastic to give them more chances at life, for our sake. But life is undeniable. Even when it goes against our interests.

There are very few times when a gardener is unhappy about things sprouting. Sprouting means life. It means growth and promise and hope and bounty. Most of the time.

Disaster!

I’m weeping in my cup this morning because my garlic is sprouting. And I don’t mean the garlic that I intentionally planted in the garden last December. I mean my stored cache of cooking garlic that I cured last summer to last me all the long winter months and then some. Sprouting. Green. Bitter.

It’s my fault, of course. It should have been kept in paper bags rolled tight to keep out the light. But for some reason I thought it would be nice to have it accessible in a basket in the kitchen, hanging from one of the rafters. I though it looked pretty. All the purple and white bulbs in a big pile ready to be chopped, diced, crushed, cooked and consumed. Did I mention I love garlic? I have unwittingly provided it with the right amount of daylight hours and what it believes are about 62 degree soil temperatures, so it has decided that now is the time to push out new life and reach for the sun. I have deceived it.

What do I do with it now? If I do nothing, it’s taste will get worse and worse. It will eventually realize it has no soil, no water, no actual sun, and it will start to rot. But the garlic I planted last winter won’t be ready to harvest until July. That’s five long months with no garlic.

But all is not lost, I think. It’s not yet too bitter to use. I could slit open each of the cloves and mine out the green shoot to use in stock. I could chop up the shell of each clove, press it and store it in olive oil in the fridge. I could even plant some in a box inside and see if it grows. But that’s a ton of work. Hours of work. Whatever I do with it, I’ll be crushing out it’s first hopeful bid for life.

What’s the big deal, you’re asking yourself. Crying over some sprouted garlic? Get over it, you’re telling me in your head. Pull yourself together, woman, and go buy some fresh. It’s only about 5 bucks for three cloves of organic garlic. Times 40.

In 2014 I went to the Connecticut Garlic and Harvest Festival in Bethlehem CT http://www.garlicfestct.com/ where I found people who celebrated garlic as much as I do. There I sampled many varieties of garlic and purchased several types to grow myself. Since then I have been selectively storing and planting my favorites for four growing seasons. This garlic represents four years of being on my knees in the heat of July, carefully lifting out the bulbs to cure them, and four years of being on my knees in December, fingers frozen as I poke the cloves down into the frosty soil. And over fifty months of garlic bread, garlic chicken, garlic vegetables, garlic shrimp, garlic aoli, garlic sauce. At least I have some still tucked away in the frozen earth, waiting for it’s proper time to make a play for life.

I’m actually doing it.

And so I peel and chop. And peel and chop. And continue to peel and chop.
And I remind myself, dear reader, that this is slow food. My fingers, sticky with garlic juice, are tarred with garlic paper up to the middle joint. My kitchen smells like, well, a really garlicky place. I’m doing this not because I can’t afford to buy fresh garlic. Not because I am a food hoarder. Not because I have too much time on my hands. It’s because this garlic represents my labor. My care. My intention. Even, yes I’ll say it, my love. I love this garlic. It matters to me. I am not willing to cast off the result of four years worth of effort and buy some anonymous garlic. I take pride in cooking with food I have grown myself. Surprisingly, I feel that my garlic has a certain provenance. It’s journey has become my journey.

If you don’t already think I’m nuts, just keep reading.

There is some concrete science that says that food grown in a certain place is symbiotic with the surrounding biome. The plants and animals (us included) that live in that place have a certain microbiota different from other places. Those microbes that are symbiotic with all life in that area provide tangible benefit for their hosts in the form of immune support and disease prevention. All this really means is that different places have different germs, and garlic you grow yourself in your own dirt might actually be better for you than garlic grown elsewhere, in different germy dirt. That’s one of the reasons we eat local, right?

If you’re looking for me today, I’ll be in the kitchen creating my newest signature dish, winter sprouted garlic soup. I promise it will cure the sniffles with one sip. Ask me for the recipe!

Potty Talk

My dogs love to eat poop.

My dogs especially love to eat frozen poop. Poopcicles.

My dogs love to eat frozen poop and wipe their faces on the back seat of my Subaru.

NAUGHTY!

OK, stay with me people. This actually is about gardening and food and seasonal living. Sort of.

So lets think about poop for a minute. I’m talking about horse poop, although I’m sure they would eat cow poop too, if we had a cow. The horses eat the grass. They digest the grass. That keeps them warm. Then the horses poop out the grass. It goes onto the ground and the worms come to eat it, and they digest it, and they poop too. (yep, Everybody Poops) THAT goes into the ground, making healthy soil, and the grass grows healthier. And the horses eat the healthy grass. The magic that is happening in this very specialized system that I have grossly oversimplified is called …..Drum roll please….Bacteria.


Enter the Dogs. What is actually going on here is the dogs are capitalizing on a healthy system. They are trying to get something they need into their diet by eating the poop of other animals. It’s not because the poop tastes good, although it might. I wouldn’t know. Dogs, being carnivores, don’t have a ton of naturally occurring good bacteria in their guts, but horses do. That’s why we put their poop on our gardens. The dog eat the horses’ poop to get the good digestive bacteria.

This is where it comes from!

Can you see where I’m going with this?

I just finished reading The Mind Gut Connection, by Emeran Mayer. I strongly recommend that anyone anywhere sick with anything read it immediately. Even though I know you all will, I’ll give you a synopsis anyway.

  • The gut is larger than the brain and every bit as complex.
  • The gut has trillions of microbes, including bacteria, in it. The microbes are our personal ecosystem.
  • The Microbes (actually the metabolites they produce), interface with our brains. They control most of our hormones, as well as our immune responses. They can also produce cytokines when they are unhappy, which cause inflammation.
  • Personal microbial stability = good health and emotional wellness.
  • Things that kill our personal gut microbes are bad for us. (pesticides, antibiotics, corn syrup, commercial wheat gluten, emulsifiers etc. etc.)
  • Things that are good for our microbes are good for us. (organic produce, fermented food, wild foods)
  • We must ‘farm’ our microbes to keep them healthy.

I’m not saying we should be eating poop, although that’s fast becoming a treatment for certain illnesses. Just consider, the next time you stop for a doughnut and a caramel mocha latte, what is happening to your gut bacteria. The next time you have to take a Z-pak, realize that it’s wiping out all the good guys along with the bad. No wonder it gives you the runs.

I know we all get sick, and the best treatment for severe bacterial illness is strong antibiotics. But remember that a healthy gut can (and does) wage war on invasive bacteria. Your personal army of microbes, if you keep it strong and healthy, will prevent you from getting sick in the first place.

Once you’re there and you’ve been coughing for weeks, fever of 103, chest x-ray, and you’re gulping down those steroids and antibiotics and sucking on the nebulizer, it’s time to do some serious bacterial rebuilding. If you just plain refuse to eat poop (just kidding!) there are other ways to rebuild your internal microbial army. They are called FERMENTED FOODS.

Kim chi, sauerkraut, pickles, yogurt, fermented cheese, kefir, kombucha, miso, tempeh, sourdough. These are some of the common ones available at the grocery store. Get them and eat them every day. Or ferment your own. It couldn’t be simpler. Put some vegetables in a crock with some salt. Cover them with water. Wait 4 weeks. Eat. It is actually that easy.

So go forth my friends, and colonize your guts with healthy bacteria. Farm your internal microbes. Eat well, live well, be happy.

Down Time

Ah, January. One of my favorite months. Not only because its often snowy and sunny at the same time, like today, but because I don’t have to be doing doing doing every minute of every day. I’m speaking as a gardener when I say there is always something to be doing in the garden. Except in January.

This is my down time. The time when I get to relax and just think about the garden. I can plan what steps I need to take in the spring. I can lay out my vegetables on my garden plan. I can shop seed catalogs. I can daydream about it, or not, but I don’t have to show up every day and get my hands dirty.

Sure, there are other things to be doing in January, like shoveling snow, but I don’t feel the urgency of things needing to be done yesterday, the crisis of time passing while weeds are growing, that I feel in the warmer months. It feels nice to relax.

It’s also wrestling season, another one of my favorite times. Well, not the wrestling part, actually, that isn’t terribly pleasant. The part I love is watching my 17 yo son kick some booty on the mat. That part is super fun. He’s really good.

Since this blog is about gardening and eating (mostly), you’re probably wondering what is on the table at Winter Farm this snowy season. Well, we are enjoying the moose meat that my son, (also a world traveling hunter) brought back from Newfoundland this fall. We have a bunch of duck, goose, pheasant and venison in the freezer too. I’ve been having fun cooking from Hank Shaw’s cookbooks Duck Duck Goose, and Buck Buck Moose. https://honest-food.net/ He’s a terribly clever chef of wild game.

So what am I doing with all my free down time? I decided to write a novel. Ha ha, I know. I can hear you all laughing. As you should. I don’t really know how to write fiction, and so I’m learning as I go. Playing catch up and realizing it is nothing like I though it would be. Hard work. I have a whole new respect for authors. Anyone out there with advice for a wannabe author?

Which season is this, anyway?

IMG_1781I bought myself a new pair of galoshes.  I love that word, galoshes.  It brings to mind yellow rubber duckies and chubby kneed toddlers jumping in puddles.  Purple umbrellas, rain streaking down window panes, and good books.  So I have a new pair.  Sleek, navy blue and mid-calf, with a bright orange lining, they are my new favorite shoes.  Partly because I get to wear them every day, morning and evening, and sometimes in between.  They are made by a company called Hunter, the Rolls Royce of rubber boots.  The last pair I had were made by Hunter too, although I cheaped out and bought them slightly used on Ebay.  I got  what I paid for, by the way.  They must have been more than “slightly” used, because they only lasted a few seasons.  After a few weeks of doing my chores in wet socks this spring I broke down and bought a new pair directly from the company.  And not a moment too soon.  The pretty box lined in bright orange with the fancy Hunter logo gave me almost enough gratification to justify the price.  At least they are getting a good workout.  IMG_0747

It’s been a wet summer here in the northeast.  Wet and hot.  A wet summer following a cold late spring.  Following a weird winter.  But no one needs me to tell them that the weather is out of whack, all you have to do is look out the window, or better yet look at your garden.  I’ve got tomatoes splitting open on the vine before they ripen, peppers dropping all their leaves and huge eggplant bushes with no blooms on them.  My carrots are two inches tall and as fat as sausages, the watermelon, winter squash and pumpkins have no fruit at all, and the raspberries mold before I can pick them.  I have cabbage spitting open like hatching eggs and basil plants with leaves as brown and slimy as pond scum.  Things are composting before I can harvest them.  It’s wet.

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It’s in my nature, sadly, to point out the tragic and flawed first.  When someone comes for a tour of the garden, or is just walking through, I’ll delightedly complain about all the garden failures.  Maybe it’s my way of deflecting blame, as if I’m somehow responsible for the weather.  I need everyone to know that despite all my efforts, things are not perfect, and I recognize it.  I make them note the worst so they know that I know the flaws exist.  That I’m not proudly displaying what is obviously not the way it should be.  It’s a terrible way to behave, and not very self-serving.  Most times, not only would they not have recognized the not-perfectness of things, but it robs them of the desired delusion that things really are perfect, and just the way they should be.  They leave thinking either I’m a downer, or just not very good at what I do.  Or worse, they feel the need to reassure me, and make me feel better for my multitude of failures. Ridiculous.

So, now that you’ve heard the worst, both practically and subconsciously, I’ll tell you the good news.  Onions the size of softballs.  Leeks that are three feet tall.  Abundant parsley, mint that is overflowing (isn’t it always) and cucumbers that just keep coming.  The garlic harvest was successful, fat white and purple heads drying on racks in the garage. The kohlrabi, while a bit tough on the outside, was none the less plump and crunchy.  And the summer squash.  Oh, the summer squash.  I’m reminded of Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal Vegetable Miracle where she informs her children that they lock the car doors in summer not to deter someone from stealing the car, but to prevent neighbors from dropping off  bags of calf sized zucchini on their back seat.   Lock your doors folks, it’s that kind of year.

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And I can’t forget the flowers. Almost everything was abundant, tall, vibrant and with enormous blooms.  My ‘Dinner Plate’ dahlias are actually the size of dinner plates.  It’s the best year I’ve seen for poppies, and the Sunflowers are 10 feet tall.  Of course the weeds are 10 feet tall too.  Some of the grasses growing in my flower beds have become ornamental.  I’m trying to go with it and resist loudly declaiming to whomever will listen that I didn’t plant it there, and I haven’t gotten around to pulling it out yet, and if it weren’t for all this blasted rain you wouldn’t notice it.

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I’ll let out a little secret.  We harvested about 6 gallons of honey from our two hives last week.  This is big news for all the folks to whom we give honey as a Christmas gift.  While a few of them no doubt have jars of honey stacked in the back of the pantry, I know for a fact the majority can’t wait for their Christmas bag of goodies from the Winter Pantry, the honey being the golden prize.  This years honey was pale, golden and sugary, redolent of clover blossoms, honeysuckle and apple.  Much different from previous years, when we’ve seen honey that has been almost molasses-like, dark amber and thick.  The weather makes a difference for the bees, too.

Not being a bee person didn’t stop me from helping this year.  Helping is a misnomer, really, but I was there, standing several yards away and trying to breathe deeply and radiate calm normality.  As if that’s my natural state.  Ha.  Only once did I do what I had promised myself not to; shreek, hop, and swat hysterically at my hair in an attempt to dislodge one furious lady trying in vain to defend her home.  Of course my husband, who is a bee person and for whom calm normality is a way of life, came to my rescue, and plucked the poor thing from my head before she could sting me and ruin both our lives.   He had repeatedly picked the angry things off his arms and neck without a peep, lifting out the heavily laden frames with calm aplomb.  Different nature, I guess.

And I must mention the fruit. The abundant rain and humid weather has certainly been a blessing for all the fruit setting plants.  Fat yellow plums are dripping off our diminutive trees and for some strange reason the birds haven’t yet discovered them.  Perhaps they are thrown off by the color?  It is wonderful to harvest so many unblemished fruits.   The downside being that they don’t spoil as fast, so I’m disinclined to make jam, or even to freeze them.  Sorry friends, no plum jam in the Christmas bag.   Instead they sit in big bowls on the counter and get gobbled down five at a time.  This time of year it’s not unlikely for me to make an entire meal of plums, blueberries and peaches while I stand at the counter dripping juice on myself.  Elegant.

 

Conclusion?  The weather is weird.  It’s different than last year, different than any other year before.  Science says it’s going to get weirder.  But nature will win out, in the end, I think.  And us gardeners, what can we do in the meantime?  We have to deal with what we get, acknowledge the bad and celebrate the good, and then go forth and try to be more responsible to the planet.  We plant and harvest and eat, we fail and succeed and mostly do the best we can.  It’s in our nature.