My across the street and next door neighbors each recently acquired new garden tools. With a cordless power drill and a hex drive auger to serve as bulb bit, my neighbor to the north planted 160 tulip bulbs on either side of the walk leading to her front door. Not to be outdone, my gardening neighbor to the west made a quick Amazon purchase for this same handy tool and scattered 80 daffodil, hyacinth and early snowdrop bulbs among her well-established perennials. Promises of spring – that is assuming the scurry of squirrels that nests in our 80-year elm tree doesn’t dig up the bulbs as winter appetizers or the fluffle of rabbits under the neighbor’s shed across the alley doesn’t devour each green shoot just as it pokes through the snow. Normally all this activity would have inspired garden envy and set me on my own quest to add spring color. And, last fall I would have enthusiastically joined the planting challenge but not this October.
When we first entered our global quarantine, I accepted it as an inconvenience and then joined two new book clubs, enrolled in an Impressionist art appreciation class, and participated in an earth-based meditative retreat led by French knitting designer, Solène Le Roux. But what I am feeling today, 18 months into our shared Covid experience is a bit like the title of the 1971 S.E. Hinton coming of age novel, That Was Then, This is Now.
When mass media began mentioning “pandemic fatigue” I recognized some of the symptoms as my own but also wondered about the power of suggestion. Then articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association and The Lancet validated my feelings. The World Health Organization even has entire publication devoted to “pandemic fatigue” which is defined as:
…an expected and natural response to a prolonged public health crisis – not least because the severity and scale of the COVID-19 pandemic have called for the implementation of invasive measures with unprecedented impacts on the daily lives of everyone, including those who have not been directly affected by the virus itself.
An expected and natural response to a prolonged public health crisis. The validation that what I am experiencing is an international phenomenon may not be a precise recipe for an attitude adjustment but it certainly is a step toward reducing my irritability. Getting back in the garden, if only to put things to bed for the winter, may also help diminish my pandemic fatigue.
I am in a harvesting war with some critter or multiples thereof. One day I have succulent beans needing just a touch more sun-filled nutrients to go from too small to just right which then disappear, leaves and all, with only bare stems remaining. For years we grew our beans vertically in a true square foot gardening technique but they always seemed to develop a late summer rust as our garden has just barely enough but not quite enough sun plus the added inconvenience of growing so tall so as to be out of my five-foot, five-inch reach. Several years ago we reverted to bush beans and, while taking more room in our six – four foot by four foot raised bed squares, they have always produced. And, this year too, we have produce it is just that something is beating me to our crisp haricots verts, despite the fence.
Summer gardening versus neighborhood fauna – the war continues. We may have to revert to trellises.
As I prepped this morning’s basil harvest for the second batch of summer pesto, I smiled and remembered the first time I had this savory concoction. It was summer 1977. I was in library school and a friend who was in town for a library association meeting had offered to treat this poor grad student to dinner. We met at Helen C. White Hall, wandered over to Memorial Union, spent time on the Terrace before strolling up one side of State Street and then back. Reaching the small second floor storefront Italian restaurant where we had dinner required trudging up narrow wooden stairs. (This was long before ADA required accessibility. It was a restaurant Dad hated when I took him there not because of the food but because he worried about exits – or the lack thereof. But that’s another story.)
My friend was quite excited with the chef’s pasta du jour which featured fresh pesto on tortellini. I had no idea what pesto was but as I did not want to appear anything less than sophisticated, I ordered the same entrée. I remember my surprise when I was served a dish far more green than pasta white; heavy on the garlic. For this first sampling, it was a good there was a nice red wine accompanying our meal.
Despite growing up with big vegetable gardens at my house and my grandparents, basil and garlic were simply not things we grew. From my narrow culinary perspective at the time, basil and garlic were dried herbs from McCormick; used infrequently, mostly just for Aunt Thelma’s spaghetti sauce. But now, basil graces pots just outside the back door for quick access and grows in the tomato squares as a companion plant. While we do not have garlic growing this summer, we have harvested splendid crops in years past. With a nod to food writer Beth Dooley and author of our well used The Northern Heartland Kitchen cookbook, we will fully enjoy this batch of savory almond basil pesto. Bon appétit!
Inspired by Suleika Jaouad, I started Knit+ Librarian as a Covid survival technique early into our worldwide pandemic quarantine hoping to capture random thoughts and images. Over the past year and a month, I never gave any thought to what might happen as topics cycled back through my life. I knew the Knitting and Reading blog posts would stay fresh as there would always be a just-knit sweater or shawl to describe or a new favorite book to review. But with today’s first picking of blueberries even while reveling in their dusty blue hues, I realized there may be some repetition in the Baking and Gardening categories whether I am describing the last rhubarb crisp of the summer or this season’s blueberries.
There is a simple beauty in the natural cycles each following one after another, season by season which especially deserve our appreciation in this northern clime where we go from warm days of verdant greens to frigid, frosty whites and grays and back again. And, I am certainly in good blogging company, as Christina Campbell on The Healthy Knitter shares monthly posts about each full moon and Solène Le Roux at Knit Pause leads meditative knitting retreats focused on nature. As I celebrate the ebb and flow of the seasons in our garden sans any exotic varieties and filled with plants I can only describe by their common names without knowledge of scientific nomenclature, I will simply enjoy “playing in the dirt” and you may see a similar but never identical new post or photo.
Easy to grow, nasturtiums provide vibrant color all summer with the added treat of edible leaves and blossoms which bring culinary diversity to simple salads. They have been a staple in our vegetable garden for years plus they are beneficial companion plants for our raised-bed tomatoes.
This spring, I was overzealous and planted an entire seed package with a thought to experiment with drying leaves and blooms for winter flavorings. But, alas, unlike the fertile yield of previous years, the 44 seeds produced only five plants which we are carefully tending with a hope to enjoy the peppery flavor by summer’s end.
The excitement over my first, post vaccination day trip to St. Paul in April and lunch out with a friend in a restaurant which followed strict (and therefore reassuring) COVID protocols, slipped into what can only be dubbed COVID malaise. While our neighbors have been in their yard for weeks, adding raised beds and planting, I can only claim a minimalist effort having helped Richard turn over the six, 4×4 foot vegetable squares, sans seeds or seedlings. While the chilly temps and night time frost advisories offered the cover of an excuse, I simply lacked my annual dose of springtime, get-in-the-dirt time enthusiasm.
But then, Michelle inspired me. During last night’s A Late Show with Stephen Colbert, our former First Lady offered her heartfelt comments about coping with pandemic anxieties. I took her words to heart: “… push beyond … just the doing gets you out of the funk.” After stops at two green houses for healthy plants and an assortment of vegetable seeds, we spent the afternoon planting. Today’s in the ground tally of various varieties includes:
Cucumber – 6
Tomato – 5
Basil – 5
Pepper – 4
Zucchini – 2
Kale – 1
Tomorrow’s goal (assuming the rain holds off): Potatoes, beets, lettuce, radishes, beans, nasturtiums, and a flavorful collection of potted herbs: more basil, plus dill, leeks, oregano, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Michelle was right – “just the doing” was the prescription I needed.
Known as the “flower of the soul”, marigolds hold significance throughout the world in Hindu, Buddhist and Catholic religions.
Today’s gardening task – transplant marigolds from our garden plot to backdoor pots for easier protection against soon-to-come frosts so we have an abundance of bright blooms for our November All Souls service.
Our small Kutzky Park garden is actually several distinct patches. Six, 4-foot square raised beds for vegetables, four fenced blueberry bushes that yielded 25 cups of succulent summer fruit that we greedily consumed only sharing two berries with our neighbor, a rain garden that replaced an old tarmac driveway and an assortment of annuals and perennials for cutting with a small solar fountain at the center. It is not a hardship to sit on our screened porch, especially this pandemic summer and listen to the solar fountain gently splashing while often catching sight of a brilliant goldfinch perched on the fountain’s edge.
One of this summer’s home improvement projects was the refurbishing the rain garden. Our initial attempt to direct roof runoff worked well but a decade of freezing and thawing resulted in too much water flowing into the storm drain. Now, with new river rock spillways leading from downspouts to a catch basin, we once again capture the rainwater from the east side of our house and, coincidently, the west side our neighbor’s roof. Just in time for this week’s cool temperatures and rainy days. Autumn has arrived.
This morning’s harvest. Our six 4-foot squares (definitely not filled to capacity ala Mel Bartholomew’s methodology) are keeping us in fresh vegetables. Add to that the pots of herbs on the screened porch and we have freezer stashes of freshly simmered marinara sauce and zucchini chocolate chip bread to enjoy in the chilly months.