Sampling Summer At Last
During those days in mid spring when James and I were toiling away in a wide-eyed rush trying to get the garden ready for planting something — anything — and we were running so depressingly behind schedule, I did not have the fortitude to imagine scenes like the one below (or the one above if I’m honest). The past two weeks have meant a lot of harvesting and canning for us and I’m beginning to struggle to keep up! What you see below is just a typical morning’s haul from the garden — a particularly invigorating one since we finally got an ounce or two of rain after going more than two weeks with nary a drop! I’d like to point out how irritating it is for me, as a gardener, when I hear people going on at length about how weeks without a drop of rain is “such great weather”. Makes me want to tape a “kick me” sign to their back! I went out to the garden, optimistically, with a large bowl to gather what I thought would be a few more tomatoes to add to the batch awaiting the canning pot. Instead, I found myself making two trips to get it all in!
It wound up being veritable who’s who of the summer garden! In the back row (left to right): pumpkin-shaped Rosso Sicilian Tomatoes, Cream Sausage Tomatoes (the yellow plums), and a few heavy Italian Heirloom Tomatoes. In the middle row (left to right): Opalka Tomatoes (the red plums), yellow-white and green striped Fish Peppers, plump Amish Paste Tomatoes, and some red-ripened Black Hungarian Peppers. Finally, in front (left to right): red-and-green King of the North Peppers, bright and sunny Garden Sunshine Peppers, some cheery Banana Peppers, and a handful of Jalapeno Peppers.
That Italian Heirloom tomato, above, weighed in at 1.63 pounds — not a world record, but definitely the heaviest tomato I’ve ever grown. And those pictures of chili peppers? Those are two different harvests! We are swimming in chiles, right about now, and I’ve learned the hard way that I should always wear gloves when processing spicy or even “medium” spicy peppers. It’s a long story involving two separate evenings when — for hours after I’d finished in the kitchen — my fingers felt like they were on fire. Trust me, put on some gloves and you won’t be sorry!
I’m not complaining by any means, but I’ve spent many hours already canning up immense batches of tomatoes, tomato sauces, salsa, and pickles of mind-boggling varieties. So, when I keep carrying all of this garden loot into the kitchen, I do so with mixed feelings. On one hand, I’m so happy our garden has had some success even in its first season. On the other hand, each bucketful of tomatoes means a commitment of time and effort in the kitchen to carefully preserve them for later when we’ll need all these tasty, cheerful reminders of summer’s bounty. I’m finding myself looking forward to autumn when my time in the kitchen will be more voluntary and leisurely!
The garden is a wild place, these days — a mess of vines, tendrils, blossoms, fruits, good bugs, bad bugs, spiders, moles… I am but a visitor there, observing and tending when I’m able. Summer’s pace is not sustainable for us and, thankfully, not for nature either! In its frenzied way, summer can sometimes exhaust me, laughing off my futile efforts to bring a sense of order to even this small bit of square footage. When I finally stop trying, I realize it is an awfully beautiful time to be outside.
Zinnias are guardians of garden inspiration, I believe — if not for everyone, at least for us. Their blooms last for more than a week in some cases, changing colors, changing shape, never letting on that they’re fading at all. Effortlessly, they make you feel like a master grower when all you really did was plant a seed and stand back. They’re excellent as cut flowers, too, as James (our budding amateur florist) can attest. He made a cutesy, low-profile arrangement to brighten up the table for some recent special guests we were hosting. The zinnias and sunflowers really put on a show!
I’ve also been delighted to finally see some blooms from the Bachelor’s Buttons and Sea Shell Cosmos popping up around the garden. I’ve been dazzled, as usual, by the cosmos (one of my all-time favorite flowers). This particular variety has a unique shape with tubular petals that thrill the visiting hummingbirds. Meanwhile, we’ve got more than just the common blue Bachelor’s Buttons in the center garden. These are some very exciting colors! So far, I’ve only managed to get pictures of the interesting white ones with colored centers, but there have also been some solid, jewel-like blooms that were cobalt, magenta, and even maroon!
And, of course, when I’m not busy staring at these cherished flowers or stirring a steaming, simmering cauldron of tomatoes, I’m usually trying to come up with quick and impromptu ways of tasting bits and pieces of summer in the here and now. We had two particularly tasty meals, recently: 1) Garden-Fresh Chicken & Rice (recipe from Cook’s Country) which featured some of our Golden Zucchini, Blue Jade Sweet Corn, and Yellow of Parma Onions; 2) a summery lunch of Whole Wheat Pita Pizzas and a bowl of Corn & Fingerling Potato Chowder (recipe from Cooking Light) featuring our fresh basil, thyme, and Cream Sausage and Opalka tomatoes (we’re still waiting for the first of our Golden Bantam Sweet Corn).
With the Autumn Beauty sunflowers nearing their peak — delighting goldfinches and starring in table arrangements — we’re now seeing blooms from the giant Mammoth Grey sunflowers. Some of the plants are at least ten feet tall and their blooms are at least twice the diameter of the Autumn Beauties. Even though they don’t have interesting color variations, I love gazing into these blossoms and trying to soak in all of summer’s warmth and light beaming from their cheerful faces.
We’re officially in that part of summer when it would be easy to believe that summer never ends, that winter is just some distant memory or legend. Yet, even as I stare into the face of a sunflower framed by a sapphire sky and feel the sun beaming down onto my shoulders, I can already see that autumn is on its way. The bees are buzzing about it, the garden is readying itself. If you listen closely, you can hear it approaching in the rustle of leaves high above in the trees. There’s a faint smell of it in the air and I have to admit a secret longing for it even now as summer has taken up residence in the kitchen. Sample summer while you may!
~ by Jason on September 5, 2012.
Posted in Big Garden Project
Tags: bachelor's buttons, chili peppers, cosmos, gardening, growing peppers, growing tomatoes, harvesting, heirloom tomatoes, organic gardening, summer, summertime, sunflowers, tomatoes, vegetable gardening, zinnias