The period between garden planning and planting, and the prize at the end of the work - the harvest, consumption, and preservation - is fraught with anxiety, sweat and repetition. My days are now starting to flow into each other - after the coffee and breakfast, putting on the "gardening clothes", starting with a walk around (after turning off the deer sprinklers, of course)...often with the hand held recorder to note particularly interesting observations. Some days it is then feeding time, others pruning and tying, but nearly always, a good full watering - unless of course we've had rain. The side yard dirt garden needs less watering (the plants having the moisture of the soil to draw from), but the many straw bales and containers have no such ready water source - or, more specifically, the ready water source is me with a hose. Then, that being done, more observations, dealing with issues (removal of diseased foliage or a dead plant), harvest, the occasional lawn mow and application of grass clippings mulch to containers if they are in need.
If the day in the garden starts at 9, the above tasks are typically finished by noon or 1 - and I am pretty severely wilted myself by then. The repetition is fine, because the progress becomes evident and the excitement builds as this or that crop start to ripen - the last few weeks saw the end of lettuce and mustard, but the beginning of beets, beans, eggplant and cukes - and, very soon, tomatoes and peppers. It all happens really quickly - prime harvest starts early July, but by early to late August the incessant heat and inevitable pressure from critters and disease bring it all to an unwelcome end.
Did I say anxiety? Troubles? Every year here, like clockwork, early July brings about struggles with this or that tomato plant. Whether it is a clearly diseased secondary stem on Tiger Tom, a few container-grown or bale grown Dwarf tomato plants showing the yellowing, wilting signs of Fusarium wilt, Septoria Leaf Spot and/or Early Blight on lower tomato foliage - the feeling is familiarly infuriating, but quickly accepted - what else is there to do? Today I was in a bit of despair noting that Magnus, up until today looking brilliant in its straw bale, is showing signs of trouble. Giant Syrian's ride has been pretty rough right from the start, but yet still hangs in, a handful of fruit dangling from the main stem.
In comparison, the eggplant and peppers are flawless, loaded with fruit and flowers, perfect of foliage and health. Tomatoes, the culinary prize of the summer garden, are the most tenuous, the most vulnerable...but, obviously (since I've been putting up with this for over three decades), the most "worth it".
Final photography for my book will take place for a few days starting on July 21. I may be putting out an SOS for particular tomatoes (some of you are already aware of this - as in Giant Syrian, for starters!). The span of time between today and July 21 are going to be a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me as I once again compel my plants to pump out ripe fruit to meet a schedule!
Just a bit of news - three bits, actually. I am now looking over the contract for my next book, which will be about growing vegetables in straw bales. It is not as big a task as the tomato book, and text is due in December. On Sunday, I will be on Niki Jabbour's Weekend Gardener show out of Halifax, Nova Scotia at 10 AM talking tomatoes. And, on Tuesday, I will be one of the guests on Frank Stasio's fine daily WUNC Public Radio program, the State of Things. Links to all of this are found on my main website page, here (scroll down for the links).