Notes to self from this yearís gardening season: Six collard
greens plants are plenty. One, yes one, dill plant
is plenty. The rest that volunteer are weeds. Donít plant
turnips in a spot that will be completely shaded out by the
broccoli next to it before they sprout. The reason lambís
quarters are a weed and not a crop even though they are totally
edible and tasty like spinach is that you have to harvest
them when they are under six inches tall, and if you ignore
them for a few weeks they become not only inedible, but several
feet tall and able to steal your carrotsí lunch money.
We actually did better with our garden this year than last
year. We had a plan, we had paths, we had seeds in the ground
in at least some of the garden at the right times. We spent
happy June hours weeding while our daughter imitated us by
studiously moving piles of dirt from one place to another.
And then, for a whole host of reasons that are interesting
to no one but us, our diligence fell apart just as super-weed-growing
Iím figuring that if we keep adding a month each year to the
portion of the gardening season during which we keep up with
the weeding, that in maybe four years or so weíll make it
through without hitting that point where weíre embarrassed
to show our faces and walk past everyone elseís moderately
neat, mulched rows to where the tufts of weed seeds are blowing
in the breeze over our little corner plot. Itís nice to have
But in the meantime, itís fall; harvest season. We have a
cooler of apples from my father-in-lawís trees in the kitchen
getting turned into applesauce in small batches whenever a
couple of hours present themselves. We have been celebrating
last corn and first cider. And a couple of times a week there
has been the by now eerily familiar proto-hunter-gatherer
experience of harvesting from an ignored garden.
Because after all, the only thing worse than being the community
gardenís negligent hoodlum would be to also let the food that
was still growing there despite you go to waste. So,
even though it would take several solid days we canít spare
to make up for lost time and beat the jungle into submission,
I have been slipping in and out to clip armfuls of elephant-ear
sized collard greens and chard for our dinners and for the
freezer. The butternut squash vine that has taken over a third
of the plot has yielded up three huge squash so far, the broccoli
plants are on their third or fourth bloom, and our ancho pepper
plant has turned out a half-dozen cute little green fruits.
Plenty of others didnít make it, like the hundreds of carrots,
turnips, and green beans that have just been swamped. Othersóthe
chives, rosemary, calendula and oreganoóare likely still in
there somewhere, merely lost in the sea.
The survivors are like little islands. To get to them, you
need to bushwhack, searching for signs of our wooden paths,
trying not to crush the unlikely vanguard of squash blossoms,
and getting arms full of scratches and a nose full of pollen.
Oh, and stopping to pick tomatoes.
Yes, the tomatoes. Youíve got to understand: unlike, apparently,
nearly every other gardener or foodie on the planet, Iím not
fond of fresh tomatoes. Like with coffee, I like their smell
on my hands as they come off the plant, but I donít really
want to eat them until theyíve been cooked into something.
Even so, thereís something about a fully-laden tomato plant
that screams harvest and abundance. Especially in our garden,
where we planted only two orange grape tomato plants, figuring
that was plenty, but stepped aside humbly when a patch of
volunteer plum tomatoes sprang up in a square we hadnít planted
yet. Whoever heard of volunteer tomatoes? Youíre not even
supposed to be able to grow tomatoes from seed outdoors in
this climate. Somehow it didnít seem like the kind of thing
you turn down.
There they were, and there they are now, holding their own
against the weeds, sprawling this way and that, hiding bunches
of bright red fruit in improbable places, sometimes tucked
down low like a clutch of eggs of an extravagant ground-nesting
bird, sometimes hanging perfectly over the bent remnant of
a tomato cage.
I canít walk by them and leave them there, even if freezing
a gallon of tomatoes had not been my plan for the evening.
They are an offering and a responsibility, a little bit of
graceóunearned, as grace always is, but nonjudgmental. They
are a sun-warmed, fragrant, juicy little reminder that not
everything goes to hell if you let go for a little while.
I think I have some plans that may work to keep our garden
more a garden and a less a meadow next year. But I also think
Iíll leave aside that square where the volunteer tomatoes
came up, and welcome them if they choose to return.