Lessons Learned in the Garden
It’s a wonderfully, blustery, rainy, chilly early fall day. Perfect for reading indoors and recapping the summer’s garden with a few lessons learned. Have you noticed how much you can learn about life by working in your garden? Have you noticed how much life imitates planting, growing, and tending the garden? Take weeding for example. Life occasionally calls for some weeding…sometimes a lot of weeding! And sometimes you just need to yank it up by the roots and head to the compost pile!
Looking back on this year’s garden, I want to remember a few lessons learned.
Lesson 1: It’s Okay to be a Party Pooper (or Don’t Let a Bunch of Party Goers Ruin Your Crop)
If you’ve followed along this summer you know that my bush bean plants were minding their own business, producing like crazy, and then were attacked! Or rather they got mixed up with a bunch of marauding fiesta goers and those revelers made a mess of things. (see: Ay-yi-yi Mexican Bean Beatles) My response? I cut all the bush bean plants back to rid of all the foliage where the juveniles and eggs would be hiding out, and things got right back to normal quickly. The bean plants leafed out nicely, and produced just like a great bush bean should. They are just now slowing down and wrapping up the season.
Lesson 2: Ugly Really is Beautiful (or Don’t Judge a Tomato by its Cover (?) or the Best Tomatoes are the Ugly Ones)
So what else happened in the veggie garden this summer? Tomatoes! Big, ugly heirloom tomatoes. They were delicious! It seems that my tomato plants put their fruit on all at the same time, so I was eating tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Can you overdose on tomatoes?
I made a rather tasty tomato basil soup…added some crusty bread and a glass of wine and enjoyed summer heaven! I cook a whole lot like I garden…by the seat of my pants. My kitchen is more like a laboratory than a kitchen. My usual method is to just figure out the ingredients and go to it sans recipe.
Julie’s Tomato Basil Soup
Saute half a sweet onion and several cloves of garlic in some olive oil.
Peel and chop a bunch of tomatoes.
Add the tomatoes and the juices to the onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes.
Add 2 cups of chicken stock.
While this is simmering, coarsely chop some fresh basil (about a handful).
Add the basil to the tomatoes, onions, and chicken stock and let simmer until the tomatoes fall apart.
Add to taste: salt, pepper, and a wee bit of crushed red pepper.
Once the soup has cooked long enough so that the tomatoes no longer look like tomatoes, remove the soup from the stove and puree in a food processor or blender.
Return the soup to the stovetop and add some cream (a nice pour…maybe about 1/2 cup or so) and let simmer for a few more minutes.
Garnish with some basil and Parmesan cheese.
If that isn’t specific enough for you then you’ll have to look up your own recipe. But seriously, you probably can’t mess it up.
I finally cut my wildly out-of-control tomato vines back a couple of weeks ago. The sphinx moth caterpillars had discovered them and were enjoying my tomatoes way too much! There is fresh growth on the vines. Who knows if I can coax another tomato or two out of them. It’s doubtful at this stage of the weather game.
Lesson 3: Plant Only What You Need (or Consider Opening a Roadside Veggie Stand)
I planted eight cucumber seeds allowing for the possibility that they would not all germinate. I was wrong. They all germinated and I couldn’t make myself pluck a plant or two out of the ground before they started to produce. I mean, shouldn’t they all have a chance to do their thing?
I had cucumber overload this summer. I started carrying a bag of cucumbers with me everywhere. Clients received cucumbers at appointments, friends and strangers got cucumbers at happy hour, even my hair stylist received cucumbers! I’m pretty sure the patrons down at our favorite clubhouse (happy hour gathering spot) thought I was a whacked-out, cat-obsessed, garden-crazed woman.
Eventually the cucumber beetles also found the vines and started to literally suck the life out of them. This happened so late in the summer that I actually felt great relief to pull the vines up and discard the whole cucumber overload mess. Next year the local food pantry will be my first option for sharing the bounty!
Lesson 4: Don’t Give Up (or Plants Don’t Always Produce on Command)
I started pepper seeds in the house last February. I dutifully set the plants out into the garden when it got warmer and there they sat…for months. Those pepper plants didn’t really do anything. They didn’t grow. They didn’t die. They just sort of sat there. So I continued to give them water and secretly gave up on them until they finally started to grow in August and actually started producing…like crazy! The plants have never really gotten very large, but they have produced a wonderful crisp, sweet pepper. There is a bag full in the refrigerator as we speak!
Lesson 5: Plant Some for the Critters (or You’re Not the Only One Who Needs to be Fed)
If you’ve followed me at all you know how I feel about sharing the garden with non-human critters…particularly the pollinators and birds. In order to accomplish this, I don’t use pesticides or other harmful chemicals and I tolerate (welcome) a whole lot of imperfection. I prefer to think of it as redefining beauty. In that vein of thought, I delightfully watched as caterpillars munched on various host plants in the garden—carrot tops, dill, parsley, plantain, and passion vine. I was rewarded with a multitude of chrysalis hanging about and ultimately butterflies flitting in the garden. The lesson here is to plant some for the critters and, in fact, I will be increasing the number of host plants in the garden next year and continue to add flowers for nectar. What fun!
What lessons did you learn in your garden this year?