Take a little note, to remind you in case you didn’t know… that I picked my first ripe tomato of 2010 on July 25th!!! Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it! Or, um… at least mark the date on your calendars… whatever you prefer. *ahem* This day will go down in history as my greatest triumph in Pacific Northwest gardening to date.
My camera didn’t exactly want to focus on it in my hand and I was in too much of a hurry to eat it to fiddle around taking photos for very long – but you get the point. It was lovely and beautiful and sun-warmed and bursting with sweet-tart juicy goodness and I got to eat it in JULY. <Lisa collapses in ecstasy>
I will be the first to admit that I have a tomato problem. Being a lifelong home gardener (and being raised by the same), I wait with baited breath for the first tomatoes of the season, and can hardly stand the excitement when they first arrive. They have been absent from my diet for so long and anything from the market has been just sad that the first few are relished like the rare delicacies they are. Then I enjoy the heck out of the glut of tomatoes for a few weeks. We get into canning season and the first round or two is satisfying – seeing the glistening red jars filled with tomatoes and sauces makes me feel like I’ve really accomplished something. Then I get to the point where I have giant piles of them on my counter, begging to be used, fruit flies hovering excitedly nearby. Somewhere between the first time I think, “gee… I need to use those tomatoes before they go bad,” and, “wow another round of canning seems like a lot of work,” I hit the wall. I never want to see another tomato again.
And yet – a few chilly months go by, and the last of the indoor-ripened tomatoes that I picked green before the first frost have come and gone in our dinners and sanwiches, I’ve held out on breaking into my home-canned stash until I can’t stand it anymore, and every single recipe in my cookbooks that calls for so much as a single fresh tomato sounds excruciatingly delicious. I NEED to make those dishes, and I simply can’t. No fresh tomatoes to be had. All other recipes sound boring. Tasteless. What’s a girl to do?
Thus, the cycle begins again. In those bleak winter months, a deep-seated need for fresh tomatoes starts to build inside of me, the autumn glut long forgotten. By the time late spring rolls around, I’m nearly delirious with tomato lust. I scour my beloved farmers’ markets for any sign of the jewel-toned fruits. At the first sign of outdoor-grown, chemical-free local ones, I snatch them up. My own plants at home are just starting to get going – harvest is still multiple weeks away. The ones from the farmers’ market are ok, not great, but I eat them like candy anyway. And each day, I go out and stare at the plants in my garden. I look for flower buds, and then blossoms, and then pollinated blooms. I am dismayed when flowers turn brown and drop from the plant, not yet ready to make fruit because the current combination of environmental conditions are not yet right. I am giddy when I find the first teeny green fruits, nestled in the calyxes. And then the waiting begins. Like a stalker, every day I go out and stare at my tomato plants. I watch the fruit grow and look for new fruit set. I wait for any hint of color change. It always takes longer than I expect – especially up here in the NW.
Finally, the day arrives when I have a ripe tomato to pick. And I hesitate. What if I pick it too soon? Can’t be hasty. Must choose exact moment of maximum flavor explosion. Can’t wait too long. Overripe is even more unacceptable. I hem, I haw, I watch like a hawk for signs of tomato hornworms (believe me when I tell you that overrides any desire I have to pick my tomato… or even be within about a hundred yards of the plant). And finally, I do it. I reach into the plant, feel for the slight give of the fruit that indicates perfection, pluck it from the stem, admire it in my hand, turning it over in the sun…
And then I eat it. And it’s over. Just like that.
Totally worth it.
Yesterday I picked another one.
And today I picked THREE!!! (photos not available) I let Brian have one of the three today, his first of the season. He should consider himself extremely lucky. I’m not exactly good at sharing for reasons I have made clear (see above).
I also picked my first carrot yesterday!
It was officially the finest carrot I’ve ever grown. First, it actually grew (see previous accounts of last year’s carrot woes to understand why this is exciting). Plus, it grew straight and lovely and it was sweet and crunchy but tender and aromatic and WONDERFUL. <sigh> I’ve had bad luck with carrots over the years, from 6-legged monsters, to short, fat, woody nightmares, to tough, tasteless impostors masquerading as perfect, slender beauties. I consider this another of my greatest triumphs. I picked varieties this year that are specifically known to be dependable, straight, tender, and sweet. I was not wooed by promises of rainbow colors or heirloom beauty. I’ve been down that road before. Bridges burned, and all that.
Today I picked three more carrots, each one more perfect than the last. Success!
I’ve also started harvesting my garlic.
And my recovered shelling peas are rewarding me with mid-summer peas!
My cucumber plants, like my melons, look beautiful and healthy and woefully-behind schedule due to the weird weather earlier this year, I guess. It’s funny, in warmer, sunnier, drier California (conditions favored by both cucurbits and tomatoes), my mom is already picking bundles of cucumbers, but her tomatoes aren’t even close to ripening. Go figure.
Honeybees have seemed notably absent to me this year (perhaps the global honeybee problem is finally hitting us up here), as have all pollinators in general. Usually my plants are buzzing with honeybees and bumblebees. This year, I saw my first and only bumblebee three days ago. I have not seen one since. And while the dandelions in our grass were swarming with honeybees earlier in the spring, I hardly ever see one nowadays. In spite of their absence, however, it seems something has been busily pollinating the blackberries. I am pleased to report that we will have a huge crop this year, as always.
The other day, I did see just a few honeybees (and no bumblebees) on the blackberries. I didn’t have much of a chance to get good shots, though. I am sad about the bees.
On a last, photo-free fruit-set note, I do have a few peppers set on my plants, but my camera flat-out refuses to photograph them. It must not like peppers.
I am pleased to report that my favorite teeny-tiny garden frogs are back this year! They were painfully absent last year and I worried about the global frog problem. Like our friends, the honeybees, for many years now the planet has suffered huge losses of frogs from every corner of the globe. They are considered indicator species, meaning that they are indicators of the overall health of an ecosystem, and since they are so sensitive to change, they will be the first to be affected by negative changes, forecasting bigger changes to come. No one is quite sure what is causing the mutations, sterilizations, and deaths of so many frogs, but pesticide use and habitat loss are front-runners in the debate.
Anyway, I spotted a teeny friend, maybe 3/4-inch long, in my lettuce the other day. He seems to live there now. And then on Sunday, I found this guy nestled into one of my corn stalks. I just hope he eats and and all caterpillars that were considering making their homes in said plant. Good froggy.
There also seems to be an abundance of lovely ladybugs this year (yay!), to go with the excess of aphids (boo). Balance in all things, I suppose.
Do you see the bee? She was not cooperating. I took a jillion pictures but she kept moving and flying away when I got the camera close enough. And since there was just one of her kind anywhere to be found, this was the best I could do. Come back honeybees!
* note – yesterday there were two, huge Western Swallowtail butterflies that were IN LOVE with these same flowers. They hung out on the plant for probably 2 hours, while I watched them from my desk window. And I, like a dope, didn’t think to photograph them until they were gone. They have not returned yet.
** double note – yes, butterflies are worrisomely similar to moths, and yes, I am just a bit uncomfortable around them. But, I did mange to go outside, grip my own arm tightly enough to leave marks, and observe my friends on the flowers a bit, as they dipped over and over again into the wells of nectar with their incredibly long proboscides (yes that is the correct plural form – looked it up). A stunning feat of bravery, if I do say so myself.
*** triple note – Brave becomes braver when you learn how I first happened upon said butterflies. I was out watering my potted plants, and when I got to the nasturtium and parsley pot next to the echinacea plant, I was suddenly DIVE-BOMBED by a mad flurry of bobbing, weaving, flapping yellow and black. The perpetrator proceeded to CHASE ME with repeated attacks until I was well away from HIS flowers, and then he re-alighted and resumed drinking his nectar with a self-congratulatory smugness.
Charlie suggested next time I stop the attacks by surrendering to the butterflies. He kindly demonstrated:
It was egg-laying rush hour. Pippin wanted to know why I wasn’t taking a picture of her.
I thought it was an excellent question. She is an interesting photo subject these days, because she has developed very distinct swoopy neck feather things.
A couple of the other EEs have hints of these, the others do not, but Pippin has outdone them all! I don’t know what they’re called. The poofy cheeks are muffs, and the throat poof is a beard… but the neck swoops? No clue. Maybe they’re somehow related to the tufts on true Araucanas?