JANUARY Wanting to simplify our lives, we started 2020 off on a good note. After the tenant gave her notice, …
The following essay was written by my grandmother, Rose Ridnor. I found it humorous because I’m often precariously balanced on a ladder, in the middle of summer, trimming the dead flowers off our two lilacs in Mount Vernon, WA. And while I have the clippers, the nearby apple trees also gets a trimming.
The lilac tree was long overdue for pruning. This particular morning, after spending almost two hours pulling weeds, cutting, and cleaning up the front and side of the house, I was finally ready to begin trimming the lilac. When I as more than half done, I found I was getting terribly tired.
The burning sun had followed me all morning, making my face flush and sticky with sweat. My legs ached from leaning against the runs of the ladder, my hands were stiff from wielding the clippers. I just had to finish. Stop now and who knows when I could get back to it. So I pushed harder with the clipping and snipping to finish faster.
I was concentrating hard on lopping off a heavy branch, my mind as blank as it could get, when out of the blue, a line of words popped into my head. It was odd. I eased off a second to repeat it to myself, “I can always plant another tree, but I can never grow another me.”
Quickly, I fathomed its meaning, and for a moment was tempted to heed its message. But no, I couldn’t stop now. I had to finish.
But it kept bugging me. Why am I pushing myself? What am I out to prove? I have just so much energy, exhaust it, and I’m finished. The tree doesn’t give a darn whether I cut off its dead flowers or crowded limbs. It will just go on doing what it has to do: Grow and produce more flowers that will die, and I’ll have to cut off.
I set the clippers down, stepped off the ladder, went into the den, and plopped into a chair. I could feel the tiredness ease out of my body.
Ten minutes later, quite refreshed, I went out, put away the ladder and tools, left the sweeping to Morris [husband], and that was that! I didn’t hear one word of protest from the lilac tree.
Life is a constant weighing of the importance of one’s own self in relation to everyone, and everything else.
It’s my nature. I look for the negative, minimizing the positive. This year, the positives significantly outweighed the negatives in our Mount Vernon garden. Nevertheless, hoping to harvest several bags of peas, like we’d done in previous years, I whined all summer, lamenting the spindly plants that emerged, most barely tall enough to reach the netting.
A handful grew, producing a smattering of delicate white flowers, which turned into bumpy, misshapen pods that struggled to produce edible peas.
The only explanation for this disappointment was planted the peas in second raised bed, which didn’t have the nutrients to support healthy pea growth. Rich felt they didn’t get enough sun, but they were relocated less than 20 feet away from where they were planted last year.
Meanwhile, our neighbor from across the street, who grows and sells berries and pumpkins, told me to thin out my strawberry plants, removing the runners, and keeping only the strong plants. I had my doubts, but was amazed by our copious crop of strawberries, which lasted for several weeks. Last week, I picked another burst of strawberries, courtesy of the warm weather.
When I lived in Sherwood, Oregon, I had a prolific raspberry bush. I’d brought cuttings to Texas, but they writhed in the heat. Fortunately, before I moved, I planted several canes at my mother’s house, which I later planted on our Anacortes lots (did horrible), Kirkland house (struggled), and finally in the front yard of our Mount Vernon houses.
For two years, these cuttings gingerly took off, spreading, but producing few berries. This year, they flourished, producing bowls of plump, raspberry gems we enjoyed with vanilla ice cream.
Now that the bush is healthy, and large, I’ll cut it back, removing some of the old canes.
When we had our Anacortes lot (happily sold last year), we made friends with a master gardener, who give us cutting from a thorn-less blackberry bush. Like my raspberries, it limped along but took hold this year, initially sprouting inch-long ruby red berries, which were tart. Disappointed, I left them on the bush, and nearly three weeks later, they turned dark purple and were delightful to eat.
This same master gardener dropped off several tomatoes, bell peppers, and sage bushes. How a vegetable plant, like child, is a determinate of its future success. In this case, we were given Ivy League tomato plants. They were tall (nearly 3-feet in height) and strong (the stems were as thick as white board markers) with root balls you’d expect on a large bush. Once planted, they got bigger, producing within weeks heirloom, Italian, and early girl tomatoes.
Plus, Rich purchased 6 different types of tomato from Fred Meyer’s, and we had tomatoes spouting up everywhere from last year’s fallen fruit. Every tomato that falls on the ground, and is left there has the potential to turn into an uninvited plant the following summer. We even had tomatoes sprouting in the grass!
We produced so many tomatoes that I dehydrate four batches, and made two large pots of sauce to freeze.
While peas were a disappointment, our pole bean production exceeded expectation. After weeks of gnawing on beans, nearly every night, I blanched and froze what was left. Bye-bye beans.
Planted by the pole beans were green bush string beans. I think they were intimidated by the pole beans because while the plants were healthy, and full of beans, we didn’t have a particularly large crop. Meanwhile, the purple string beans, planted in the raised beds in the backyard, were troopers, producing piles of beans at the beginning of the season, and then again last week! I’ve never had a double-crop before from these determined, consistent producers.
While radishes were a bust last year, we had radishes within weeks of planting. They were gorgeous. We immediately replanted, but subsequent radishes had lots of leaves and ill-formed radishes. Strange.
Carrots fit in the same category as radishes… great initial crop, and then nothing afterwards. Plus, I’m so enchanted by our carrots that I don’t want to eat them. After a few days in the refrigerator, they get soft, and then I have to toss them in the recycling bin. What a waste!
The pepper plants we got from the master gardener produced for months, and must have collaborated with the pepper plants we purchased from Fred Meyer’s because we picked numerous bell and chili peppers. This was the first year we had too many peppers, and I ended up dicing, and freezing them.
We were equally pleased with our cucumbers, especially the delicate lemon cucumbers. Unlike years past — when we ended up with behemoth squash — this year, we were very analytical and logical when planting zucchini, crock neck, patty pan, and piccolo. The analysis paid off (or maybe we did a better job of picking them when they were small) because we ended up with the “right amount” of squash and only had to give away a few.
Speaking of out-of-control squashes, an acquaintance mentioned on Facebook that she was given a large squash and was super excited about preparing it. Her friends offered recipes. A week later, she was flummoxed as to how she could possible use up the rest of the squash. A friend responded, “There are town where if you leave your car unlocked, you’ll find a zucchini left on the seat.”
Finally, with an early spring, we popped lettuce, kale, spinach, and arugula seeds in the ground. They grew like weeds, providing us with salad-fixing for most of the summer. We’ll keep the kale in the garden, since it can be harvested for the next few months, provided it doesn’t snow or there’s a hard freeze.
It’s been an exceptional year for growing produce. Our garden in Mount Vernon has produced piles of radishes, carrots, lettuce, arugula, kale, peas, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, yellow tomatoes, cucumbers, and in the past few weeks, a dozen or more huge zucchinis.
On Saturday, Rich and were at a picnic. We brought three large zucchini, which we hoped to pawn-off onto other. One woman, Bernie, was delighted to take one of our mammoth squash. She said she was going to make meatloaf out of it. She shared her recipe, which I made on Sunday…