Gardening While the Cat’s Away

At least once each year, circumstances align and the wind is taken out of my sails for a little while. Things come to an abrupt halt and I’m startled to discover that I have to get out the oars and get myself back in motion! I’m speaking, of course, about when James goes out of town.

In years past when he’s gone out of town for the annual meeting with his company, Nicole (my partner in crime) and I have always cooked up an elaborate scheme or project to keep us busy while he’s away. This is most generous of Nicole, of course, to take such good care of me. I’ve confided in her that — if not for her intervening — I always become a couch potato hermit while James is away.

One year, we made insane amounts of homemade pasta and ravioli for the freezer. Another year, we made two batches of very involved homemade ice cream. On another occasion, we went for a very long hike (the “hike” was technically a 10-mile jaunt along the lake and through some neighborhood streets, but it was too substantial to be called a mere “walk”).

This year, however, neither of us felt particularly enthused about making a giant work project for ourselves. IMG_0249We’d tossed around a few ideas, but they essentially fell flat. Instead, we decided to just enjoy the time as best we could by making a nice dinner here and there, going to a concert, and — of course — taking care of the garden. Frankly, taking care of the garden could be a week-long project in itself if getting there every day were possible!

IMG_0247For the past week, we’ve not had any rain at all, so I knew that it would be time to give the garden a drink. Since there are no spigots in the entirety of the community garden, we have to carry in all of our water. Sounds dainty, right? Carrying water? Not dainty at all! Think more like massive tankers full of water! Using a combination of collapsible containers and recycled milk jugs, we can carry about 35 gallons of water to the garden. So, on what felt like the hottest day of the year, so far, we loaded into the car and headed out to the garden.

Nicole hadn’t visited the garden since early May when she’d helped us finish shaping the beds and do some weed clearing. IMG_0267She’d heard me speak of the pumpkin vines, but I suppose she thought they were mere exaggerations until she saw them in person! Fortunately, since I’d managed to forget my camera (James is at least half of my brain, apparently), Nicole was having a blast taking pictures of the garden on her iPhone and was generous enough to donate them for this post.

The Jarrahdale pumpkins have leaves that are so large they’re difficult to get in a single picture! Not to mention, the vines are all over the place. While the plants are beginning to produce several blossoms, there’s still no sign of a baby pumpkin. I’m really looking forward to seeing these pumpkins take shape.

The Sugar Pie pumpkins have different leaves but similar-looking blossoms. IMG_0261The plants are already well on their way to making baby pumpkins — lots of them. As soon as the fruits get large enough, I plan to place some ground cover fabric underneath them and set them right-side up so that they can keep away from mildew and be shapely at the same time.

Perhaps against better judgement, I planted a single Cocozelle Zucchini plant in the same patch as the pumpkins. Not only am I strapped for space already, but I also didn’t do my homework about cross-pollination until after planting everything. IMG_0262Fortunately, I’d only be in trouble if I were planning to save seeds from this year’s pumpkin harvest for next year’s crop. Under the current conditions, that would definitely be impossible. From what I’ve read, squash loves to cross-pollinate and each variety needs to be at least 500ft apart to prevent them from crossing. Seeing as how I don’t even have 500ft from end-to-end in the garden let alone between varieties, it’s a comfort to know that at least the fruits that are produced will not be of the mutant variety!

IMG_0245I had the second of what will be many herb harvests, on this visit. I harvested lots of Large Leaf and Napoletano basil and I trimmed from the thyme plants and the sage enough to encourage more growth in the plants. Once I got home, I put all of these in my herb dryer. (I’ll make a post, later, about drying herbs.)

Lo and behold! The first sighting of ripening tomatoes was made!! As I predicted, the first signs were on the Silvery Fir tomatoes. IMG_0290I’m wondering how quickly the ripening will progress. I wonder if I’ll wait until the tomato is absolutely, unquestionably ripe before picking it or will I pick it when it’s “just about there” and let it ripen in my kitchen where it’ll be handy. I guess harvesting will be just another activity that is made complicated by the lengthy commute to the garden. We’ll figure it out.

The Kentucky Wonder pole beans have begun to get their first little white blossoms. Meanwhile, I noticed that some of the Scarlet Emperor flowers have faded, fallen off, and are being replaced by miniature bean pods. I was very excited to see that! IMG_0250I wasn’t, of course, excited to see that I had more Japanese Beetles to kill. Grrr! They’re tenacious little buggers! But, while Nicole was watering and doing some weeding, I tended to the beetles. I left their lifeless bodies hanging on the plants to discourage other beetles in the neighborhood. I hear this is somewhat effective in controlling them, but it is a gory sort of practice… bringing to mind the disembodied heads of traitors hanging on spikes outside the outer walls of some medieval city. That’ll show ‘em.

The cucumbers are living it up on their trellises. IMG_0255I’m happy to see all the ripening cucumbers, too. My chief concern, now, for the cucumbers (and the pumpkins, for that matter) will be insuring that they get enough water — either from the sky or from my labors — to keep the fruits attached to the vines and ripening. Hopefully we won’t have too many more weeks like the past week. It’s been feast or famine, lately… or monsoon or drought, actually.

IMG_0279

It was fun to see Nicole dashing about the garden and making ooh and aaah noises at the plants, noting each of their natural, artistic qualities. Once everything had been watered, the weeds discouraged and dispatched, the young fruits examined and coddled, the beetles smashed… IMG_0271Nicole and I loaded everything back into the car and headed to a local pub and had some less-than-saintly pizza. It was a well-earned dinner for two road-weary gardeners. Though we’d not spent several consecutive days in the kitchen rolling out a massive home cooking project and we’d not walked from one end of town to the other and back, it was great to have some quality time in the garden and to share with my closest friend these amazing plants I’ve been going on about since spring.

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~ by Jason on July 10, 2010.

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