Manual

My dad’s birthday was Friday. So the family gathered for a celebratory dinner Friday night, and I volunteered to bring salad greens (because we have a rather large abundance of lettuce in the garden). Shortly before we were ready to head out, Richard and I went out into the garden to harvest lettuce, and that’s when I realized that this whole ‘checking on the garden only once a week’ thing was starting to become a very bad idea.

Last weekend there were a lot of cute little baby squash. One week later, all the cute baby squash had grown up. This is what we harvested Friday evening.

It was actually kind of comical, because I tried to carry every single one of those in a pile in my arms and had to sort of stagger back up the stairs to the kitchen. So I washed them all off, and Richard washed off all the lettuce, and then I picked three of the largest and took them to my parents’ house and foisted them on my family, because that is what you do when you have too many squash.

The state of the squash and lettuce plants, however, spurred us on for one of the biggest projects we tackled this weekend, which was to finally finish weeding the garden. In previous years we’ve gone out and hand-watered every single plant, following all the guidelines as set forth in the Square Foot Gardening book. Sometimes it was a pain, but at least that meant we were out in the garden several times a week, checking on things, catching the weeds early. This year, however, the garden’s been expanded to about four times what we were doing before, and there’s now a very lovely automatic drip system, so there’s been less of a reason for us to go out there and look at it as often.

So yesterday morning we got up at 8 and we went outside and tackled the garden. Admittedly both of us would have preferred to sleep in, but it was in the low 90′s yesterday, so it was better to get this kind of thing out of the way while it was still slightly bearable outside. We spent about an hour out there, pulling weeds and cleaning up the lettuce patch and the tomatoes and the squash. I got out the clippers and hacked back one of the tomatoes in order to rescue the poor little lemon cucumber, which was started to look a little sad and smothered. I spread more coffee grounds around the base of all the pepper plants and also two of the cucumber plants since that seems to be key to keeping the local slugs and snails at bay, although I still had to trim some of the lower hanging pepper leaves so there’d be nothing touching the ground where the stupid slugs could reach. And while we didn’t finish the entire garden that morning, we did make a serious dent in the mess by the time we finally decided we were done.

After that, it was off to Starbucks, to get coffee and pastries, and then we drove to Davis, to Impossible Acres, which is a local U-pick place. We spent an hour or so there, filling a flat box with as many strawberries we could find, then working our way down rows of raspberry bushes and braving the thorns to collect the tiny little berries that were hidden within. After about an hour or two, we were both tired and sore from bending and crouching, and our arms were pretty well shredded from the raspberry bushes, and so we decided we were done, and collected all our berries and headed back home to make jam.

For all the canning I’ve done in the past, I’ve never before made strawberry jam. But Richard loves berries and he especially loves berries in jam, and we had a whole LOT of strawberries, so it seemed like the best way to handle them. Strawberry jam is stupidly simple to make. We washed and cored enough strawberries to make about 5 cups of crushed strawberries (the food processor came in pretty handy at that point), and then I tossed those into a pot with some pectin and threw a pile of jars and lids into one of my giant canning kettles to boil, and about half an hour later, we had nine jars of strawberry jam cooling on the counter. Considering that we spent about $7.50 for all the berries, and the raspberries probably accounted for about $2.50 of that, that’s a pretty good deal for nine jars of beautiful, fresh-from-the-garden strawberry jam. As for the raspberries, they were washed and flash-frozen and tossed into the freezer for later. And after we were done with all of that, we decided that we’d done quite enough for one day, so we collapsed in little piles of exhaustion on the couch and watched the first few episodes of Star Trek (the original series) because it seemed like a very good idea at the time.

Today we finished up the garden, which included hacking down some kind of tree that keeps growing at an insane rate in the bed where the blackberry bushes are planted, and harvesting another huge batch of kale. I washed it all off and blanched it and then as I was rinsing it under cold water to stop the cooking process I had a few moments of girly freaking out because there were giant caterpillars in the kale, and I had not seen them on the leaves when I was washing them, so where did they come from, gah! At this point Richard came into the kitchen and noted that oh, yes, he’d found a lot of those last weekend. Ew. So I probably rinsed all the leaves a lot more than they needed to be, but finding a giant dead caterpillar (because it had been boiled, you see) made me a little extra paranoid. Anyway, we tossed another four cups of blanched (and decidedly caterpillar free) kale into the freezer along with all the kale we processed last weekend, and at this point if that kale keeps on producing like it’s been doing, we are going to be working our way through a whole lot of kale for months to come.

The other big project for this weekend was to deep clean the downstairs. There was vacuuming and dusting and scrubbing of counters and floors, but by the time we were done the downstairs looked better than it’s looked in an embarrassingly long time, so I am hoping that this will inspire us to do this sort of thing more often. Ha. Or not.