Summer’s Last

The crab grass and other weeds hiding among the plants are going to seed. The tomato plants hang loosely, much of their potential already harvested and piled on the kitchen counter ready to be canned. I finally cleared some of the onion harvest off my desk, extracting my work space from the clutter of curing alliums. The pace in the garden is lazy, as I observe, then ignore the weeds, and think about the tasks that need to be done before winter, but can be put off for now. Crickets are the soundtrack to these late August days.

Most of my spring and early summer was taken up with hauling, digging, building, pruning, weeding. The maintenance is ongoing and on a piece of land riddled with invasive and relentless bittersweet vines, grass that needs mowing, bushes to prune, there is always something that needs tending to. Especially the children who require immediate and frequent bowls of cut up fruit, popsicles, a frosting of sunscreen, and, always, ice cubes in their water. In late summer, most of the garden work is harvesting vegetables, drying herbs, preserving, and appreciating the warmth, color, and sunlight of this season. Whenever I have a chance, I pause to enjoy the cheerful sunflowers, the bushy rudbeckia, the borage that invites the bees for a sip any time. The garlic is harvested, cured, and stored for use all winter. There are a few winter squash growing on the vines that have sprawled out into the lawn. I’ve been freezing and drying herbs while I day dream about the tea blends I’ll slowly sip in front of the wood stove in January. The elderberries I planted in April set their delicate white blossoms, bringing a hint of magic as I wait for the tiny green berries to ripen into deep purple.

In the spring we built a chicken coop. Well, Ray built what I had roughly sketched out and I held boards as needed and painted the coop and dug trenches and nailed staples for the most rodent and predator proof fence I could manage. We have a lot to learn about building. Most of our projects require adjusting, both the original plan and our expectations, and daily or hourly trips to the hardware store. The coop seems like a cozy home for our five hens and, unexpectedly, one rooster.

Exhausted after spring’s tree planting, compost moving, and coop building, we pushed on to make another dream come true. The pizza oven was never a sure thing until it was almost finished, it seemed like it could crumble at any moment, but maybe that was just the worry of two novices. Despite all the dreaming and the talking about the idea, we didn’t begin planning until we were almost ready to build. We watched oven building videos and found a relatively simple process that worked, despite our uncertainty.

I’ve come to realize that the building, planting, weeding, staking, watering, tending of the garden is only in part rewarded by the vegetables and herbs that I harvest. There is so much value beyond the dollars saved in groceries and the satisfaction of eating something home grown. Even if the harvest was slim, it would still be worthwhile to cultivate a relationship with this place and this small bit of land; to create habitat for birds, butterflies, insects, and other creatures; to feed the soil and grow more than just grass in our suburban lawn. We are continually rewarded by beautiful sights, sweet smells, and so many tastes. The finches and hummingbirds whose wings give them access to the sunflowers that have grown far beyond my reach. The indelible yet fleeting scent of chamomile or tulsi or dill when I brush past the herbs. And, of course, gathering around the table and make a meal of the food that has grown right here.

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