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It’s the first true week of summer, and the garden is brimming with good things. The shell peas are done already, but the sugar snaps have climbed 8 feet to the top of the trellis and the fat pods are in full spate.
The prickly yellow flowers of the cucumbers are budding, and the vines began to run overnight. I can never quite believe those tiny flowers will set actual, life-sized cucumbers. Why is it that a cucumber’s flowers are so minute, while a zucchini’s are as big as a hibiscus–when the fruits turn out roughly the same size?
The complex, beady green clusters that will burst into white blossom are emerging at the junctions on the Nickel filet beans. Carrots are ferning, lettuce is bolting. And after years of wishing, I have eaten my first harvest of fava beans, fat and emerald green and worth all the trouble it takes to shell, skin, and blanch them.
The borage volunteered this year, flecking the beds with stars of brilliant blue.
Meanwhile, I am scratching my head again over a mystery plant. I started my usual two types of tomato seeds in April: Sungold, the popular golden cherry bursting with sugars; and Rose de Berne, a well-formed small pinkish-red tomato with deep, carrying flavor. I planted the Sungolds in one row and the Rose de Bernes with some Purple Cherokees from a friend in the other. But now that they are setting fruit, I see that many of the Sungolds are not Sungolds. Instead of setting small, alternate branches of many tiny fruits, they’re setting lusty, assymetrical branches of large and irregular, faintly striped fruit. I’m sure they’ll be delicious. Still, I’m baffled.
Meanwhile, the chicks are 7 weeks old and pullet-shaped. The Barred Rocks have lost many of the markings I used to tell them apart, and they look like almost-identical quadruplets. But if I look very closely, I can see that Two Patches’ almost-gone pale markings give her eye an almond shape, and she still likes to forage away from the others. One Patch’s patch is gone, but her beak has a dark band. Jumpy’s lost her J, but her beak has a light, spotty, disorganized pattern. Lumpy still has a lumpy pink beak, complains all the time, and is the last to arrive. They’re so busy pecking and scratching in their movable run, though, that I can rarely get a still glimpse of their faces.
The Wyandottes are quick on their feet, fearless (for chickens, anyway), and enterprising. Stormy is the most endearing bird in the flock–she comes running when I start pulling weeds and never leaves my side while I work. Here Stripèd does what chickens do best: hunting for bugs, and incidentally keeping sections of my garden weed-free.
It’s days like these I remember why we moved to this crazy old farmhouse, this scruffy and uncivilized property, this place of frostbound winters. It’s not always an easy row to hoe, but it sure is a rich one.
Who can not love a vegetable garden in June? A hundred shades of living green begging you to touch, pick, taste. Blue and celadon shadows of green under the leaves, lime and chartreuse on the sun-facing fruit.
I was making up my weekly grocery list yesterday when I suddenly realized: it’s the first week this year I don’t have to buy any produce! The garden is its own produce aisle, no refrigeration necessary. After I finish out my formal recipe-testing for the current cookbook, it’s time to ponder the delicious dilemma: what can I make with spinach, peas, scapes, baby fava beans?
I’m not 100% sure yet, but maybe I’ll make some paneer for saag paneer. The scapes will go into scape pesto. The favas will be tenderly turned with mint and maybe some butter. And the peas! Well, the peas will likely never make it to the table. They may not make it past Bed 16. They’re simply too adorable, too perfect, too delectable just as they are.
Technically, I think they’re “pullets” now that their lovely feathers have grown in. Last night Husby made good on his promise and finished the chicken ark just in time for the girls’ 4-week birthday. He and our friend Mark hefted the monstrous thing–4′ x 8′ and full of plywood–into the garden, where it is now parked.
Initially, there was clucking and panicking. But by this morning, everybody was not only still alive but acting all casual, like, “OK, now what?”
I let two chicks out at a time to free-forage while I worked in the garden, figuring that with just two (just like kids!) I could keep an eye on them before they did any damage to the tender greens. Mostly, they were just interested in digging around in the moist, weedy edges where the beds meet the ground, and that was fine by me.
Meanwhile I eradicated most of the tall grass inside the garden. While not exactly a vision of order and rest, it’s still a very pleasant place to be: 17 big beds of vegetable goodness, plus some random stuff like the pea trellis, the strawberry refugium, and the blueberry bushes.
My second radio commentary for 88.5FM, aired today on New England Public Radio, written for all you kitchen gardeners who have put your vegetables to bed.
It doesn’t happen all that often, but every once in a while a review comes out brutally honest. This book has some of the most inspired summer recipes I’ve seen, but–sad to say–they are not as well executed as they could have been.
I was 20 minutes away from our summer rental, driving on a dark, hilly, remote road with my son, when the moose happened. We rounded a bend, and it materialized in the exact middle of the road. I stopped short, 5 feet away from the animal–I could now see it was a baby moose, no antlers but still taller than 6 feet–and was immediately rear-ended by the minivan behind me.
After the hubbub settled down, we headed home, unharmed but shaken, and set to unpacking the clothes, books, kitchen equipment and, especially, the huge harvest of garden vegetables I’d picked and packed on ice that afternoon. But the trunk had been jammed shut from the impact, and there was no retrieving them.
I spent the next day trying to liberate my food, but it was Sunday and no garages were open. Calls to dealers went unanswered. A locksmith scratched his head for an hour. The local firemen agreed the Jaws of Life were overkill. I brooded over my quarts of bouncing blueberries, my dewy basil, my baby haricots and first head of broccoli, the sugar-sweet Sungolds, my warty little cucumbers and crisp heads of romaine. I imagined them wilting and blackening in the midsummer eat, halfway to compost already.
But Monday morning the local service station came to the rescue. They had to drill a flap into the already badly damaged trunk lid to access the lock. The trunk sprang open and there was…everything. I nervously opened the coolers and found, to my unending relief, that my produce was still cool to the touch and quite intact. And, for the first time in 48 hours, I broke into a broad, hungry smile.
I plant radishes promiscuously in my garden. I plant them with the lettuce because that puts my salad all in the same place. I plant them with chervil because someone said they’re good companion plants. I plant them around the squash to keep the beetles off (supposedly the bugs don’t like the smell). I plant some to grow big and set seed. In other words, when in doubt, radish.
The problem is, I sometimes lose track of my radishes. I have 16 beds, and it’s easy to see what’s growing in them in April–nothing. In July, it’s a different story. It’s a circus in there. And it’s no use looking in my garden database worksheet (yes, yes, I’m a nerd) because I don’t take my computer out to the garden.
These are some radishes I forgot about and found in a neat row in bed 10–bigger than golf balls, some of them. They’re French Breakfast radishes and they were probably just perfect 7 days ago. I cut them open after taking the picture and, surprisingly, about half of them are still good–not woody or spongy through the center as you might expect of an old radish.
It must have been seven or eight years ago that we planted the blueberry bushes, back when the garden was still just a passel of herbs and some flagstones. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but we dug generous holes and fed the blueberries compost and, sometimes, coffee grounds.
Over the years, the blueberries would come and go–a peck, a pint, a quart. We lost many to birds and bears until we learned to cover them with netting. Meanwhile the garden grew, and the fence hopped over the blueberries, enclosing them.
The kids grew too, and played under the netting when the blueberries ripened, eating till they could eat no more. Violets seemed to thrive under the blueberries, and they kept the grass down, so every time I found some in the garden, I moved them beneath the bushes.
Yesterday, having returned from a few days away, I went out, banging the empty strainer against my knee, to see what there was. Half an hour, I was still there, picking with both hands.
My son and I gorged on blueberries, but we could not eat them all. Fortunately, it happens that my next assignment is…a baking book. I think I know where those blueberries will end up.