A guide for the perplexed.

Lemon squash

Lemon squash

Last year and this year we began planting fruit in the form of berries in the garden. Last year we planted blueberries, a huckleberry, a thornless blackberry, and two bush cherries. This year we planted a Juneberry, a black raspberry, and a currant, and a gooseberry and a lingonberry. Neither the blueberries nor the huckleberry bloomed this spring because we have yet to manage to make the soil acidic enough. We are trying though so maybe next spring. The bush cherries did bloom and the gooseberry, small as it is, was blooming when we bought it. Also the blackberry got a few blossoms on it. Gooseberries can be green or red and for the life of me I couldn’t remember what variety I bought. I could have looked it up but where is the logic and fun in that?

I knew the gooseberries should be ripe sometime in July. So, early July I bent down over the thorny bush and looked at the two dozen berries. Are they ripe? I gave one a gentle squeeze. It was pretty firm so I figured, no not ripe. A week later I checked again. Hmm, still firm. Maybe I should give it taste test? So I plucked a gooseberry and popped it in my mouth. Now, I have never had gooseberries before so I had no idea what a ripe one would taste like. I assumed sweet so when my mouth puckered up and I exclaimed, oh tart! I decided, nope, not ripe.

A week later I checked again. Oh look, they are starting to get pink! I guess my gooseberry is a red one. A week later and they were still pink but getting darker. A few more days I thought. And then I forgot until a week had gone by. As I squatted down before the gooseberry my mouth watering in anticipation of the ripe red fruit I was about to taste, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Not a single berry. Zip. Nada. Nothing. The thorns on a gooseberry are about half an inch (1.3 cm) long and I stabbed myself upon them several times looking under leaves and little branches just to make sure they were all gone. With the thorns, I didn’t expect any critters would bother it. Guess again.

So, how to tell when gooseberries are ripe? Someone else eats them before you do.

The bush cherries are small but each one had about thirty little hard green cherries on it all summer long. My neighbor’s cherry tree gets ripe around July 4th, my little bush cherries were adamantly green. And then suddenly, the end of July they began to blush. Joy! I checked on them a week later. They were all pale red, not ripe red. Another week. I checked a few days later just to be sure. Not ripe yet, a few more days. I took a bowl out with me to pick the cherries into. Oh I was excited. There wouldn’t be enough for a pie but I’m sure we could use them in muffins or scones or something. I bent over the first little bush and moved aside a branch. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Where did they all go? I rummaged around through the shrub, no thorns this time. All the cherries were gone.

I moved to the other cherry and found two cherries left. They were light red, not dark cherry red. Left because they weren’t quite ripe yet. I picked them anyway because I was so mad at myself for thinking the birds would leave the cherries alone even after they ate all the gooseberries. You can’t do anything with two marble-size not quite ripe cherries so after a day I tossed them in the compost bin.

Now, those blackberries. I am not a novice when it comes to blackberries. There won’t be many because there is only one cane from last year for them to bloom on (blackberries and raspberries bloom on second-year growth) but I will be putting bird netting over it this week. I love blackberries and have picked them growing wild in the redwoods before. So delicious. They will be getting ripe in about three weeks and by golly, I’m the one who is going to eat them, not the darn birds!

The turnip seeds we planted last week are doing wonderfully. They sprouted right up after only a few days. It was a warm, mostly dry week and we had to water the little sprouts and the garden about every other day. It turned hot, well hot to me, and humid Friday and the air has been hot and thick since. We had a little rain last night and we’ve had an off and on light rain this afternoon. Not a lot, the garden should really have more, but good enough that we don’t have to water for a day or two. Hopefully our rain barrels got a bit fuller too.

Yesterday I pulled all the bolted lettuce out of the polyculture bed. It was looking really sad. The broccoli we planted has mostly been eaten by either slugs or grasshoppers or both. The beets have pretty red leaves but they never got very big and they have no fat root. Another year of beet failure. I swear, the year I manage to grow a good crop of beets I am going boil them and pour the red water over my head and then do a beet dance of victory through the garden. And then I will spend the next several days explaining to everyone why I am red as a beet an no one will understand. No matter. The parsnips, well, they aren’t exactly tall and leafy so I don’t have high hopes for them, but then they have until early October to get it together and do something so maybe they will.

Also in that bed we had planted Jacob’s cattle beans. They are a dry been that is supposed to be good in soups and stews.

Jacob's cattle beans

Jacob’s cattle beans

You leave the beans on the plants until the pods dry. Well, they are dry. So today I picked all the dry pods and pulled up the mostly dead bean plants. Next year I will be planting more of these beans. I think I might have beans growing everywhere, after all when they are dry beans, can you really do too many? They are called Jacob’s cattle but they remind of appaloosa horses, the ones with the shiny brown withers and the white and brown spotted hindquarters. I had an aunt and uncle who lived on a farm in Oklahoma and they had several appaloosas. We spent two weeks there one summer when I was thirteen and I got to have my very own horse and he looked just like these beans. In spite of the record heat and humidity that year, it was one of the best summers ever.

Anyway, the polyculture bed is pretty much empty now. So I planted some more radishes that will be ready by the end of September, and scattered white clover throughout the bed for a nitrogen-fixing cover crop.

What else? Zucchini! We’ve been managing to keep up more or less but there are two in the fridge at the moment and three in the garden that need to be picked tomorrow which means we are about to fall behind. We’ve had it breaded, we’ve had it as “noodles” with spicy peanut sauce, we’ve had it sliced up on pizza. I think we are about to have it as latkes. And we plan on trying to make a sweet relish. And of course there will be zucchini bread too.

Looking corny in stockings

Looking corny in stockings

There are also tomatoes coming out of the garden. We planted four paste tomatoes and one slicing tomato. Most of the paste tomatoes have suffered from blossom end rot which is caused by a lack of calcium in the soil. The lack of calcium can be brought on by excessive moisture or drought. My guess is the excessive moisture from the first half of summer and then the lack of moisture the second part of summer. This happened last year too. And it only happens with the paste tomatoes. I think next year we might skip the paste tomatoes and do more slicing and perhaps a cherry tomato or two, see if they survive the wacky weather better.

Corn! The corn is going crazy! For some reason I thought there would only be one ear on each stalk but there are at least two. We have about a dozen corn plants. You do the math. Thank goodness they aren’t all corning at the same time, it will happen in stages. The biggest ears closest to being ripe (a week or so away) now have nylon stockings on them in an effort to keep the critters away. So far, so good, but since it isn’t harvest time yet it is hard to tell if it is working. In the meantime the corn is all dressed up with nowhere to go, which is just as well given the stockings kind of sag around the ankles.

One more utterly fantastic thing. We have a monarch butterfly chrysalis! Bookman noticed it first about Tuesday. Remember

Monarch butterfly chrsalis

Monarch butterfly chrsalis

in the spring I saw two monarch caterpillars on the milkweed in my garden? I haven’t seen them all summer and thought they must have been eaten or something. But the chrysalis says at least one of them survived. It is hanging under the edge of the siding on my neighbor’s garage which edges up to the bed where the caterpillars were. It will be 10-14 days for the butterfly to emerge. The chrysalis will get transparent just before hatching so we will know when it is going to happen. Fingers crossed it will happen on a weekend when we can see it instead of during the day while we are away at work. Bookman and I are so excited. We check on it every morning and every evening. It is such a tiny, vulnerable looking thing, I fear for its safety. But the caterpillar did select a good place, out of direct light and protected from the worst of the weather. When I check on it I say hello and give it encouragement. With luck I might be telling you about a butterfly next week.

And, because this post isn’t long enough already, here is a video I took about two weeks ago of my “hellstrip” garden. That is the garden in my front yard that runs along the street and public sidewalk. It’s kind of long, sorry, but if you watch, I hope you enjoy it!

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