The tomatoes are really starting to take off just before we do. Blossoms everywhere. Pin-size to golf-ball-size green tomatoes here and there. This year, I’m doing the opposite of last year when I simply let them be. This year, I’m pruning, pruning, pruning. The manager of a local university’s sustainable organic gardening program told me I could do two things to get bigger, juicer tomatoes: snip the suckers mercilessly (which I’ve not been as successful with as I would like), and snip the stems so that they only have the first to leaves remaining. The former I’d heard of; the latter was new to me. He explained it this way: “Either you can have your vine spending substantial energy and nutrition growing stems and leaves, or you can have the putting that into the fruit.” He assured me that each stem only needs two, maybe three leaves. And so our vines look a little different this year.
Especially when the late sun hits them just right. (And of course Lightroom hits them just right.)
Even though it’s nearly November, we still had tomatoes in the small raised beds we accuse of being a garden. For the last several weeks, though, the ripening process has all but stopped, and so ahead of tonight’s possible freeze, K sent the kids out to pick the remaining tomatoes.
They were to segregate them into red and green, with the plan being to eat some of the green later this week in the form of fried green tomatoes and putting the rest in paper bags to ripen slowly.
Given the color distinctions, everyone felt it was best if E just held the bowl.
There was an almost fifty-degree temperature difference between Jabłonka and Greenville this third day of the 2015 summer. There, it was raining all day; here, the sun was merciless. That being said, we all had the same reaction: stay in as much as possible.
Aunty came by for a visit — she lives just about a mile away, so it’s convenient, and visiting is just what you do when it’s forty-eight degrees and raining in June.
K told me that she “couldn’t put enough layers on today.” But being trapped indoors leads to discoveries: “We played a couple of games of battleship, and then we discovered the Qwirkle game upstairs in the wooden room. It is a great game, I think we will play it a lot when the rest of the kids join.”
That will be next week, when Polish schools are done for the year and the cousins come to grandma’s.
On this side of the ocean, I spent the day cleaning out one half of the basement in preparation for a thick, heavy coat of water-sealing paint. “Withstands up to 15 PSI” proclaims the label. Sounds like you could submerge your house in that case. Still, it was a job that required a lot of work that doesn’t leave a lot to show for it. The before and after pictures look almost the same. A little less dirt on the floor, and some patches where I scraped up the old paint entirely.
In theory, this is unnecessary: I’ve discovered the source of our occasional flooding (poorly clogged drainage that leaves the downspouts to pour water along the house), and I’ve fixed the problem. In theory. But I’m not about to take a chance, so I have plans to paint both the basement walls and floor as well as the portion of the crawlspace where water was likely entering.
Cascade of Romas
Clusters of sweetness
But it wasn’t all inside work today. I worked in our small garden, finishing pulling up the old peas, straightening some of the tomato stakes, and dreaming of the not-too-distant future when I’m overwhelmed with tomatoes.
With the Boy, breakfast is always an adventure. He wakes up with the same declaration: “Dość!” which is “enough” in English. Enough sleep, enough fasting, enough of the crib. Just enough. And the second exclamation is always the same as well: “Cheerios!” And then it’s an endless train of food. Today, eggs, a small sausage, more cereal, and a bit of fruit. He can easily out-eat L these days.
The second adventure was after dinner, when L and I went out with camera in hand and discovered that we had not one but four cucumbers ready, the firstfruits from our garden. It’s our first year growing cucumbers, and we’re both shocked at how well they grow, and how much the bear. We’ll be making pickles, salads, and eating them straight from the garden until we’re utterly sick of them.
The final adventure: Bobiwa. That’s Bob the Builder in E-ese.
“Can we build it?” we ask.
“Es we caaa!” he chirps in return.
A construction crew is putting up a new fast food restaurant near the grocery store we frequent, and so E and I headed over to look at the equipment while K and L picked up a few items.
With school out and paperwork complete, daily adventures like this await us.
This year, our garden is much bigger than previous years: more than double the size, in fact, which only means we’ve added two more raised beds. We had slowed down significantly the last couple of years because of the additional joys and responsibilities the Boy brought, but now that he’s growing, so is our garden.
Gardening is one of those things that reminds me how much I’ve changed as I entered adulthood, married, and become a father. As a teen, or even in my early twenties, I couldn’t imagine spending the amount of time I do setting up lines for beans to crawl up, hunting suckers on young tomato plants, looking at several sprawling cucumber plants and wondering if they can be enticed to climb (they can), examining leaves of radishes to determine what’s eating them — and doing all this willingly and even enjoying it.
A busy day. A day filled with life in all its varied forms, from the little microbes and vermin that turn banana peels and rice to compost. Such hard workers, they deserve a new compost bin, I decided. And we need a place to leave curing compost while we spread that ready black gold (not oil, not by a long shot, except literally) in our postage-stamp-size garden.
Next steps: out with the old, in with the new. Roots, tired soil, and general chaos of six plus months of sitting unattended pile up in our little beds, so the Girl and I rake and hoe until we have a loose mat of roots sitting beside the beds and loose, dark soil ready for a turn of new compost. We plant beans, sugar peas, and peppers in the tired bed on the left in an effort to replenish some nitrogen and more tomatoes in the right bed.
Then we come to the part the Girl has been waiting for all day. Every activity has been punctuated with a simple question: “Daddy, is it time to bring the flowers yet?” She had a list of dream flowers, an amalgamation of flowers she heard about in class, read about in various books, and simply liked: Sweet Williams, zinnias, marigolds, snapdragons, and a few others.
We set up a temporary potting workbench with sawhorses and some plywood and get to work.
As I head to the front with a couple of pots, I notice our bird family that has made its home in the crook of our gutter now has teens in the nest.
“L,” I call, “Come look at this!” We watch them for a bit, gently jostling the bottom of the nest to see if they will reflexively open their mouths for a feeding. Instead, the hunker down, pulling up half-down, half-feathered wings — part of newly formed instincts.
We return to the backyard to finish our cleanup. “They’ll be gone soon,” I explain as we walk.
“Why?” she asks.
“They’ll be grown and leave the nest to start their own lives.”
I think of how quickly it all has developed: a nest one day, a few eggs in the blink of the eye, some bald chicks craning for food a whisper later. I think of how quickly it has all developed, and I am glad that humans develop so much more slowly.
Summer is sweet and sour. It is vines of filled with tomatoes turning a gentle orange before shifting to deep, sweet red. We pick them and smell the perfume that lingers on our hands. Romas provide consistency; Better Boys provide juice.
Then there’s the sour: weeds. They grow in the now-composted mulch that’s supposed to be keeping them out.
But there’s the sweetest of all: a boy who will wait patiently while mom tugs at the weeds.
It’s not something we experience daily: we’re often on our way or long gone when the sun shines through the kitchen/dining room window like this. That makes weekend light unique: we know it’s a day off when we tumble downstairs to see something like this.
We invite it in, making sure all the blinds are open and even turning off a few lights to enjoy the warmth of early morning spring light.
We aren’t the only ones glad to see the spring light.
The raspberry and blackberry canes are bursting with excitement, literally.
And so while some spring guests are welcome, others aren’t: last year, birds ate every single berry long before they were even ripe. This year, we’ve put up netting — a polite “Keep Out” that has me curious about its ultimate effectiveness.
Saturday has a morning ritual that never changes. It begins with some Skyping to Babcia and Dziadek in Poland. The Girl carries on two-thirds in English, a bit in Polish, and the rest in squeals and laughs. Ballet follows, with me heading to a nearby McDonald’s for a coffee and some paper grading. Returning home, it’s time for polski Ä‡wiczenia, Polish practice. Saturday after Saturday it’s the same, in ordinary time, Advent, Lent, or Easter.
A five-foot visitor in our backyard, though, is hardly an every-Saturday occurrence. If it were, I think we might be seeing less of Nana (and, by proxy, Papa).
A black rat snake Pantherophis obsoletus, this fellow came slithering along our side yard, and I noticed him just as he was winding his way among the Leyland cypresses that shield our deck from neighboring yards.
K was simultaneously fascinated and repulsed, wondering aloud whether I should kill it.
“Of course not!” I declared. “This guy eats rats, mice, chipmunks, squirrels, and a host of other things I’d gladly do without.” But as a compromise, I took a pitchfork and scooted him down to the edge of our property where he promptly wound his way into an extremely largeÂ azalea, curling around the branches until it was four or so feet in the air.
Returning to the upper part of our yard, I discovered some moss that appears to have sprouts. First a snake, then odd moss — who knew what else might come our way.
Yes, a very tenuous Lenten connection. Still, one can’t say I didn’t try.
A garden is much like a family. The needs are the same: diligence, love, and guidance. The results are the same: nourishment (though emotional and spiritual rather than physical), a sense of accomplishment, and roots.
In order to be healthy, they need similar environments: safe yet open, protected yet free.