It is May, and it is hot. After months of unusual spring coolness, it is HOT, and it makes me feel as if it should be July already -- I'm a born Portlander, conditioned to only expect heat for two months of the year. It should be harvest time.
But instead of harvesting, I'm still planting, setting out some of my tiny tomato starts (far healthier than I imagined they'd be, what with my half-dozen inexpert mistakes, the foremost of which was leaving them where the chickens could climb on them), pushing carrot seeds into a box prepared in February, trying to salvage peas ravaged by my mama chicken, who likes pea shoots too. I'm proud of my little red winter kale plants, so delicious the boys and I can eat them right out of the garden; and my chervil, planted from seed with only one false start and beginning to thrive (in a just-getting-going way). Amazingly, yesterday, I discovered that (despite my fears and certainty) I did NOT lose the two packets of 'Purple Passion' asparagus seeds I planted in March. I thought the shoots must have been eaten by Gilda when suddenly one day I went out and saw a dozen or more miniature asparagus seedlings, first dark lavendar, then brightly, brilliantly green. The boys and I protected them with little galvanized metal plant ID tags, carefully scraping out the cast-of-thousands-of-weeds which had been taking lusty enjoyment in my "ultra-fertile strip" meant to nurture the baby asparagi.
There are tiny lettuces, too, and blossoms billowing on my blueberries. I am struck by the delicate gorgeous blueberry flowers, all different and uniquely lovely, I tell myself that if I was prone to grand, wasteful luxuries I would demand enormous bouquets of blueberry blossoms and dark dark lilacs. The raspberries near the boys' sandbox are so bountiful I must tie them back from overwhelming the dumptrucks and tractors. Despite my fears about the late cold snap and the beating one of our grapes took last summer, three different grape vines (Steuben, Muller-Thurgau, ) are now sending out brave, glad leaves where once where little dormant nubs. Strawberry plants, whose leaves are shiny and huge and green, are blooming in their odd spots around my haphazard garden. There is watercress pushing up its fat flat leaves in a damp spot I'm creating. The eggplant and cayenne pepper plants Everett insisted upon aren't entirely dying. My artichokes are doing what the spiny plants throughout Portland are doing, too, erupting into dinosaur-like volcanoes of prickly leaves. I can't wait.
I should have planted broccoli raab, collard greens, early lettuce and peas, more kale, overwintering vegetables, I should be harvesting green garlic and baby leeks and little tender beets and salads galore. But I did not have it together this spring, overwhelmed by a needy hungry baby and an unwell husband and a job that was suffering from my chaotic mind, too many weekends put off by rain or cold or tantrums. Or maybe it was just a lack of confidence in myself.
Now that the sun is rampant and the evenings are long, my children bounce happily through the garden at dinnertime, we skip through the evenings without dinner, content to drink buckets of water and dig in the dirt. Truman, always underfoot, wants to "hep hep hep HEP!" He sprinkles a few cups full of "complete organic fertilizer" on the half of the little box I've planned for carrot succession planting. Everett, ever the literalist, puts exactly two carrot seeds in each depression I've made. I am amazed when he has plenty left at the end of his rows. When he is not looking, I madly push pea seeds and sunflower seeds into soil that I've just pinched free of weeds, sprinkle dozens more watercress seeds in my little wet spot, cast lettuce seeds and two kinds of kale and broccoli raab and soon I am not remembering where or what I've planted, I am just bouncing like a beach ball throughout my carefully considered garden plot, sprinkling organic fertilizer and seeds and little fistfuls of soil all through.
When Truman sees me carry a precious little tomato seedling ("Principe Borghese," or at least I think so, the little tags were moved around by an unknown child's hand) over to the biggest garden box, he "heps" me, pulling little seedlings out by their ears. I wince, and take a deep breath, involving him in another project while I tenderly push the manhandled baby tomatoes into the dirt. I decide to plant these close together, expecting little in the way of survival. Whatever the outcome, I tended these little plants for weeks and I will at least give them a go of it out here in the wild.
I feel so inexpert. Until I see the mint, the thyme, the lavendar, the sage. Where I lack in love and tenderness with the peas and beets, I clearly have a way with sturdy perennial herbs. I grew this sage from seeds, I carried these thyme plants home from the farmer's market, this mint and lavendar was walked home from the organic foods market a few blocks away. This may be simple stuff, but it is authentically grown and cared for by me (and the great God who brought the rain and the sun). I do not care if these are the easiest things to grow in the world, this apple mint, this chocolate mint, I have done it and now it is time to reap the rewards.
I pick sprigs with a welling of joy in my chest, I can almost not breathe for the expansiveness of it all. Huge sprigs of chocolate mint, spicy and distinctive with their darkness. Soft, sparkly apple mint, with its fuzzy underleaf stubble. There is so much thyme (I've planted, now, four kinds of it) that I can almost hear it laughing at me, at my doubt for its survival last fall, laughing like Aslan laughs in The Magician's Nephew when he is creating Narnia, with its lush mane shaking in merriment.
I take my bounty inside and I put on the tea kettle. In a carafe I have two fat triangular "PG Tips" tea bags, the British black tea of choice to which I've become addicted. When the water boils, I pour it over the tea bags and wait until it's caramel colored and rich, five minutes or so. I remove the bags and plunge in my herbs, whose character changes instantly, they become magnificent benefactors of flavor, ancient and authentic. After another five or 10 minutes of steeping, I pour the hot water into my big pottery pitcher, fill it the rest of the way with cold water, and do not wait for it to cool, I drink it barely warm in a glass and it is harvest time in my kitchen on this hot day in May.