Plastic and scrap wood
extend heat and light, summer;
A gift for my birthday.
I love my greenhouse. A little hut attached to a raised bed, home for those needing higher temperatures during the season. In the fall I plant lettuces to be harvested in February or March. In March, April, and May the little house plays host to flats of warm weather starts: zucchini, corn, pumpkins, and green beans. This year when the flats moved out, I put in chilis. Tardiness in purchasing meant I was lucky to find any starts anywhere. I bought all 5 of the bedraggled, end-of-season plants remaining at my local farm stand-all serranos.
The sad, overlooked serranos did well in their summer home. With the boost in temperature that a greenhouse provides, along with the many 80F-90F days of this year’s growing season, it is possible to get spicy chilis in the maritime PNW. While Spouse and I prefer the heat index of a proper jalapeño, we will relish these serranos in January.
To enjoy the chilis until next season’s pick, I will roast these in a hot, dry, cast iron pan. I will let cool, individually freeze, then Ziploc all for the duration. Thai curries, salsas from my preserved tomatoes, tortilla soups, whatever comes my way, all blessed by the sun and its fire, encapsulated in this small, vibrantly green package.
This summer has been a real summer. Repeated days of high temperatures, few days of Marine Layer, with 2, maybe 3, determined bouts of rain, have amounted to happy corn, sky-high pole beans, and squash all over the place. The garden is tomato-free this year, so I have been liberal with sprinkler use. Usually, I water each bed with hose-in-hand, getting soil and roots soaked before moving on. This method, while meditative, is Time Consuming and only necessary to keep water from temperamental plants like tomatoes. This season, I have saved my meditation practice for weed pulling, larvae removing, and lettuce thinning. The garden has done well with the sprinkler.
While I feel I’ve been thorough with watering, I can’t measure up to real rain. If I had a time-lapse camera in the garden, I know it would show that with hot weather, hot weather, hot weather, down pour, down pour, hot weather, hot weather the garden exploded. Each time of rain, few enough to count on 1 hand, was significant rain.
The first episode had the zucchini plants quadrupled in size. The three plants were growing but still not much bigger than the gallon pots I transplanted them from. After the rain? They were real gonna-grow-some-squash zucchini. The second good rain had the corn a full foot taller.
The last bout, which even included thunder and lightning, had the vines of the mini-pumpkin 5 to 6 feet away from their original bed, as well as producing tassels on the ever taller corn.
Our usual weather patterns bring weeks of cool mornings and warmer afternoons when the ocean influence finally burns away. The temperate zone garden of peas, kale, lettuces, arugula, broccoli and the other cruciferii love this pattern. This year, be it fluke or climate change, we are having a summer of swimming, artificial shade for the lettuces, increased watering needs, and big growth. I am grateful for the few days of real rain we’ve had, and I’m grateful for the sprinkler and the winter and spring rains which kept summer drought away.
Living here, living through the rain and cold of late fall, the rain and cold of winter, even the rain and cold of spring, makes a summer like this year, a summer in the garden, something to soak up. Go out in your garden, if you have one, early in the morning. Close your eyes and breathe deep. This is being alive. This is finding your place. You and the pumpkins and the lettuce and the robins. The maple leaves may be starting to let go, the lawn doesn’t need mowing as often, most of the berries have finished producing, but it is still summer. Relish it!
I haven’t had the time, and only have the words when I’m there, never when I get to my desktop, so here is this year’s garden as photographed. I’ve loved this version: the raspberries, again, took my breath away; the strawberries, raucous and unruly, wanted to take over the entire place; the salads, the peas-in pod and shelled, the crazy French filet green bean-too long for the steamer basket, the zucchini that wants to be big, and the hope that comes with tasseling corn. The year of reseeded flat-leaf parsley and rogue Red Russian Kale. It’s a beautiful, packed, peaceful, alive space. I’m lucky. I’m grateful.
I grew up with raspberries. A double row, hemmed in with fencing wire which ran to and from the rough cedar end-row supports, wild and untrimmed. Their soil was the very sandy almost-gravel-pit mixture of my parents’ garden. The raspberries occupied the far east end of the large rectangular growing space, closest to the grove of Douglas Fir planted when the First Born was very tiny. The raspberries were always there. Always there, waiting to scratch a careless passerby, waiting to be plucked, playing hide-n-seek with any who wished to taste summer.
Our raspberry plants originated in my Grandfather’s nearby garden. My Granddad, a master with compost, had berries that none could rival. The large, very red, perfectly shaped berries were easy picking and perfect eating. Local lore has him advising that all a raspberry patch needs is plenty of sunshine and plenty of water. I would guess the soil quality made this statement true for him.
When I established my current garden space, I too got raspberry plants originating from my Granddad’s garden, now home to my sister. These plants are an Everbearing variety, any fact beyond that is unknown. I chose the far end of my garden for the plants as they would have plenty of room to sprawl, would face south, starting out with a small 4-foot double row. The row would get enough sunshine over the course of an entire day, but watering was difficult as the large Big Leaf Maple overhead discouraged rain, watering with a sprinkler was not encouraged as it promotes Leaf Rust, and my attempt to tame a series of soaker hoses proved beyond me. I watered with a bucket until I got a long enough hose to reach. The plants survived, though I wouldn’t say they thrived. They suffered neglect due to the more attention grabbing needs of seeds and starts and Obvious Wilt.
When my son was 6, we shifted the raspberries around and planted a new section with the Meeker variety. This new section soon needed to be the Whole Section, so the Granddad berries landed in their current home, just below the Meekers. The Granddad berries are now lovingly part of My Son’s Garden. The east end of my garden is a mass of raspberries, a dwarf cherry tree, and an enormous rose, the grandiflora Sheer Bliss.
I mulch the plants in the fall, remove last year’s dead canes in February, and try to wind the still flexible late-winter canes around the support wires. This is restorative work, restorative to the soul, after everything laying dormant since October’s end.
There is a seemingly unending lag between these little buds starting to leaf and anything green on the canes being visible from the patio-kind of like Alder trees being the last of the deciduous trees around here to leaf. The carefully twisted canes never stay tidy for long. Soon the buds grow into much longer stems, the leaves exhibiting their own agendas, pushing out, getting ready for the coming fruit.
As soon as the berries begin to set, new growth begins happening from the base of each plant. These new canes will grow throughout the season, not succumbing to the more organized, twisted-on-wire nature of the parents. There is often an impulse to tidy the patch, pulling or pruning these junior invaders, but wait! These upstarts are next year’s producers.
By the time the fruit is setting, the plants look green, alive, verdant, full, and ready. Now is the lag between setting fruit and ripening fruit which is always dependent on the sun.
This year we had a hot spell in early May, cooler temperatures and buckets of rain for the 2nd half of the month. Despite our last few June’s feeling more akin to January, this year June was perfect , so the berries started producing just after mid-month. Once that first bit of fruit starts to take on some color, the rest clamor to join in. Admittedly, it is a slow, steady clamor, with the first picking a mere handful, but within a week, there is enough to eat on yogurt, with cereal, to mix into scones, and bake into a kuchen. By the next week, it is difficult to keep up, so every other day a pint of whole berries spends the night in the freezer to be accumulated in a ziplock bag for use later in the year. I already have two gallon-sized bags of berries from my funny patch.
Picking raspberries in my garden is a joy. I make sure that I have time to focus and really look for the sneaky gems. The fruit seems to relish the shade and privacy offered by the crowding leaves, requiring the picker to carefully part branches, turn her head to see under the leaves, crouching to get a glimpse of low-growing bunches, more like practicing the moves of a contortionist than those of a gardener. However, the care and attention are worth a stiff neck and overstretched hamstrings.
When the fruit starts to slow down, the producer canes begin to dry up, their leaves yellowing despite any amount of water I supply. The young canes remain green and growing but the patch takes on a spent, dismal visage. For my garden, this will begin happening mid-August, and is always a harbinger of Fall. Writing this during the full swing of ripening raspberries, I can make myself feel a bit of the melancholy that will settle over me in a month; but with that melancholy will come such a chorus of gratitude for this beautiful fruit, grown almost effortlessly, with ties to my Granddad, and the hope of yet another season. Over the years, this part of my garden has become my favorite, which if you ever get to see it in person during January, you will perhaps question my sanity. For now, it is lovely in its green, bejeweled with red, giving to any who pass her by. Bon appetit!
Today, taking myself by scruff of neck to the computer chair, I typed out a piece on roses for my other blog. It feels like cheating but it is about my gardens, so here it is.
My last post was in October on the eve of rain after a very long dry spell. The rain did arrive with various down pours, one significant burst in November gave us 2.13 inches in just 1 day. All the brown of mid-October was quickly green again. I did little in the garden after the rain. As much as I want to be an all-season grower, the rain, the cold, the wind ripping up plastic shelters, usually sends me inside to do other things like write about myself, do collage, be a mom, and generally hunker.
Then, unseen, something begins to change. The birds know it first. They talk about it a lot. Their chatter begins sowing seeds in my soul. The bit-by-bit of extended light begins to lure, pull me outside. I’m there, standing on my patio and-[cue arm of record player skidding off LP]:
Gray, bleached brown fence and bed boards, bits of fencing to support the ragged plastic covering the few over wintered bits, unworked soil sporting those little weeds with the exploding white flowers, the bamboo and other wooden support poles leaning, skeletal berry vines hugging wires, all more Chernobyl than Spring waiting to burst.
Ugh! This big picture view is far from inspiring, so I walk the paths slowly. There is life happening, which I document here, but not because of any prowess of my own. While I have provided for the soil, offered some elemental winter protection, most of this is autopilot: a tilted orbiting earth, signaling *pull* to DNA triggers, all waiting in anticipation to dance and sing, continuing creation in full force. Life in a garden is blessing. May each of you be blessed.
In June I gave a progress report in pictures. Here is the October version. Cheers!