Harvest

Cutting up green peppers for the dehydrator…once dry, these will be stored in a ziploc bag in the freezer. I use them for camp meals, and in the winter when imported peppers are expensive. Mine are grown organically, so I know the quality is good. These are ‘Fat and Sassy’ plants I started from seed and wrote about in March.

The harvest is small this year. Everything is about a month behind. It’s the first of September, and I have had only a handful of ripe tomatoes, a few zucchini, a few bush beans. The basil has done well. The strawberries and blackberries were productive. The carrots are nice. I may have a good crop of grapes to make into raisins. But no overwhelming bounty to deal with.

Also drying are peaches and zucchini, as well as some pesto. I’d never dried homemade pesto before, but it dries easily and is tasty in camp with mini ravioli and vegetables. A pot of tomato sauce simmers on the stove this afternoon, and after it cooks down I will add chopped onion, garlic, carrots, zucchini, green pepper, basil and other herbs. I call this “garden sauce”, and freeze it. It provides the basis for many dishes in the winter when the garden is only a hazy memory.

A New Holiday

August 8th is a Big Day. Yes, I’m talking about Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day. Yes, it’s real–you can Google it, because I’m having trouble with links again.

In spite of all my visits and encouragement, these Pine Street zucchini are not going to be big enough to sneak anywhere. They are about a month behind, thanks to the long cool spring. During other summers I have come home from trail crew backcountry trips to find what I call “Obscene-i”. I’m sure my garden waterers think it’s hilarious to let them get so large. I’ve thought about keeping them till Halloween to carve weird green jack o’lanterns.

In the meantime, I’m getting small tender zucchini from the produce stand. They’re from further down the Yakima River. Have been drying lots of fruit. Picked basil and made the first batch of pesto. Sweet peas are still blooming in spite of the heat. The garden phlox have opened up, and the oriental lilies. The blackberries are ripening in small batches–I made cobbler!

Thunderstorms this afternoon, and new fire starts in the woods…stay tuned. It’s August.

Cherries

From Issa (1763-1827), on a quiet life:

What a strange thing!
to be alive
beneath cherry blossoms.

Cherry blossoms opening slowly: starting when the sun shines, stopping when the cold rain falls. Much wind and changing dramatic sky these days. Lush pinegrass in the scruffy patch of woods, lupine buds still held tight to their flower stalks.

Cooper’s hawk divebombed the yard this morning, scattering the little birds every which way. It landed on the fence, giving me a close look at the long accipiter tail and fierce amber eye. WIngs opened and it tilted off.

Peas are up, barely. Basil seedlings transferred to larger pots. Time to pick baby lettuce, spinach, radishes. Not time to put away sweaters and hats yet.

Tool Geek and Garden Buddy

I have never understood the fascination some women have for shopping for shoes, collecting shoes, wearing shoes. Give me tools. I drool for tools.

I can’t remember the first time I ever held or used a pulaski, but it had to be in the 1970s, when I was a teenaged enrollee in the Youth Conservation Corps. One of our jobs was trail work, and nothing beats a pulaski for digging out rocks, chopping roots, and pioneering new trail tread. In the years since, I have carried pulaskis hundreds of miles, dug fireline, chopped trees, and created drainage dips. When I used to get laid off in the fall, I would wake up with numb fingers for a couple of months because my hands were gripping a phantom pulaski.

This tool was invented by Ed Pulaski, a Forest Service ranger from Wallace, Idaho. In 1910, he led crews during the big fire that burned through western Montana and north Idaho (see my post about Timothy Egan’s book The Big Burn). At that time, shovels, axes, and crosscut saws were the firefighting tools of choice. Ed Pulaski thought about it, and forged a new tool. I am sure he didn’t name it after himself, but somehow the name stuck.

It digs and chops, and in a pinch can pound a wedge into a saw kerf. It’s tempting to use it to pry, but that’s a good way to break the handle. A lot of younger forestry technicians don’t have much use for a pulaski–there are other tools that are easier to use, and don’t require as much skill. But sometimes the pulaski is the right tool for the job.

Back in another life, I gained a pulaski through marriage, and realized its potential as a garden tool. It did not move to this garden with me, and I have been pulaski-less for five years. A few weeks ago, I sent for a new one. It’s made by Snow and Nealley, forged in Bangor, Maine. The proportions are little different from the government ones and it’s a little lighter. My hands are overjoyed to hold it and wield it in the garden. I am digging up sod and sculpting dirt. I am so happy. Now I can dig out a stump!

A couple hours of working in the yard, listening to white-crowned sparrows…it’s T-shirt weather, even in the shade. My pal Henry keeps me company out there.

Tending

Two days of relatively mild weather lulled me into thinking it might be OK to plant peas. I’ve had the bed ready for a couple of weeks but held off because of snow in the forecast. I’m growing Alaska Bush Peas this year. I figure anything that is named after Alaska will probably manage to survive the long unsettled Cle Elum spring season.

I also planted some sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) I had started. They are about three inches tall now, and ready to start climbing. The sky is clear tonight, so I covered the new plantings with some fabric row cover. I expect to see frost in the morning.

So my horticultural therapy continues…I tour the garden to see what’s new, observe changes in the sprouts and seedlings. Violets are blooming and smelling heavenly. The radishes are burgeoning, and I anticipate baby lettuce in a week or two. I move dirt, pluck tiny dandelion rosettes and maple seedlings that come up from the several thousand that helicoptered down last fall and winter. As I tend the garden, I suppose that I am also tending myself.

I heard the first hummingbird zinging around last night.

Accepting The Challenge

Marcia wrote to me, wishing I had more drawings in the blog. (Nearly twenty years ago that we shared a studio in grad school!) She told me that she’s filled a book and a half with drawings of plants from her garden and travels. So soothing she says, just to draw with a No. 2 pencil, and see the flowers.

That got me thinking. Field expeditions are out of the question now as my heart continues to heal. But there is the garden, with something new every day. I have used gardening as therapy for years–going outside to have my fingers in the dirt, spending time with growing things, finding connection and solace in nature. It is a way to get some gentle exercise, and have purpose. A Google search led me to articles about horticultural therapy and healing gardens.

Yep, that’s what I’m doing. And I’ll take Marcia’s challenge to add more of my handcrafted images to these writings. Let’s see where this takes me.

These are the last of the snowdrops, this little clump on the sheltered north side of the house. The others–dug up from Gramma’s house–are in more exposed locations. Their white petals have been battered into drabness by sun and rain and time. Now the leaves will gather energy to store in the bulbs for next year, and I won’t look for snowdrops again till next February.

Big storm forecast- four to eight inches of snow before noon tomorrow? Hm.

Faith

March is going out like a lion. When the clouds lifted today, I could see fresh snow on the trees just above town. It is a matter of faith then that I took sweet pepper seedlings out of the heated propagator and transferred them into larger pots. Right now I cannot imagine the consistent warm weather and long days that will make these plants bloom and set fruit. If I took these plants outside right now, the cold wind would flatten them. By morning they would be black and limp.

But July will come. It always does. It takes faith not just to plant the seeds, but to nurture the seedlings in a sheltered spot and believe that the warmth will come. It takes faith to decide when to plant the seedlings outside and leave them to take nutrients from the sun and soil. It takes faith to believe that fruit will be harvested.

It’s not only peppers. There are tiny tomato plants on my porch, and tender annuals, and basil just planted today. April may bring both lashing storms and benevolent sun, but these seedlings will stay in till I have faith that summer has arrived.

Garden Dreams

Well, the seed catalogs have been showing up. I maintain a rich fantasy life that revolves around dirt and sun and green plants. I daydream over garden books, and imagine fresh lettuce. Flowers of all colors waving in a breeze and the gentle buzz of pollinating insects.

Meanwhile, the rain continues to fall, fog rolls up against the Cascades and hangs down to the ground. Snow melts, water pools up on top of the ice.

I brought the seed starting stuff in from the shed when I got home from work today.

Coming Home

The week was spent in south Tacoma attending driving training. Much of the flat ground around Puget Sound is paved over. It is a landscape almost completely modified for cars. In spite of this, the natural world persists. There is no escape from the weather–billowing marine clouds, gray drizzle, the pleasant surprise of blue sky and a crisp temperature. And oak trees: native to the post-glacial prairies, Quercus garryana grows at the edges of parking lots and air fields. The leathery leaves are still green, but the acorns are dropping and crunching underfoot.

Relief to come back to my familiar territory of conifer-covered foothills. This morning’s daylight revealed snow on ridges. It feels cold. The garden has been nipped by frost. Time to finish the harvest.
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As I picked ripening tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, I felt like I was saying goodbye. I cut the last of the zinnias, picked nasturtiums, mixed a handful of roses and perennials. Apples from a friend’s house sit in a box on the porch. Tonight I am cooking a stew of garden vegetables and herbs.

Another year’s garden winds down, but work on the house continues…
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