My husband courted me with freshly picked ripe strawberries. Rising before 5 a.m. to pick 20 pounds of the shiny dark red fruit in the cool of a morning, he’d drive 120 miles to walk in just in time for breakfast. Two things were almost immediately obvious: first, it was time to learn to make jam, and second, I needed to marry this guy.
So on Father’s Day this year, the day before the summer solstice, and 27 courting seasons later, we went to pick strawberries out at Douglas Orchards instead of going to church. It’s the earliest I have made strawberry jam — and if I had been really organized, I could have started a week ago. The berries are 10 days ahead this year.
Putting up pints of strawberry jam is but one annual June rhythm. We have arrived at the time when the frantic energies around digging and planting, dividing and placing, potting and repotting, sowing and watering, worrying about cold, worrying about heat, suddenly calm. While there is still plenty to tend to, the garden is launched. The rows are orderly and manageable. The first blooms have sallied forth. Some vegetables are ready to be harvested, and others hold promise. What’s working is actually growing; what is not working has died. I have seeds that didn’t sprout. My cumin plants died during last week’s cold and wet, and my eggplants are still unconfident, but the peas are profuse, the carrots and beets need to be thinned, and we have finished eating the spinach rows. It is time to weed, water, plant fresh and harvest.
In other words, I find myself constantly puttering.
This morning, I harvested and washed enough sorrel for a sorrel tart. When the sun had dried the dew off the German chamomile, I snipped off the tiny white flowers to dry for tea. The vines climbing the trellis near my studio — wisteria, hardy kiwi and fall-blooming clematis — needed to be pruned and directed again. The row of lemon basil wanted thinning: The two- inch high plants I pulled went into this evening’s salad (along with arugula, Italian parsley and several shades of lettuce). I noted that the dill I planted 10 days ago finally emerged from the soil (when it hadn’t appeared last week, I’d found myself wondering if the seed packet was too old). I finished harvesting the garlic scapes, those goose necked flowering garlic stalks that you can sauté and then add to an omelette or a flat bread, or grind up raw to make a subtle pesto (see Judy’s recipe).
There was watering to be done on the verge of a hot and humid day. Last week when we finished eating the early plantings of mustard greens and spinach, I planted several succession rows of seeds: another variety of carrots, red basil, a new row of arugula, a short row of breakfast radishes, and a new row of beets. These seeds need gentle watering until they germinate.
The wall of sweet peas on the south wall of my studio has reached four feet in height, and blossoms are just beginning to appear. In the herb garden just in front of them, the plants are now large enough to shade out any weeds, but in the raised beds, it is time to mulch between the rows that are clearly defined by maturing plants.
What is mulch? It’s a protective covering that gardeners place over the soil. There are many kinds of mulch, from black plastic, to organic mulches, like chopped leaves, which add nutrients to the soil as they decompose. I add mulch to my raised beds for three reasons: It conserves moisture in the soil, it keeps the soil cooler during the hot summer months, and it means much less weeding. In addition, it keeps my vegetables cleaner, and it makes earthworms — my tilling assistants under the ground who love the cool and the damp — happy.
I never mulch till the vegetables are truly established, as seedlings and young plants need warmer soil that is not too wet to germinate and thrive, and in our part of the world, springs are frequently cold and wet. So I wait for warmer weather, when the plants are tall enough not to be shaded by the mulch layer. And then I try to apply the mulch after a rain. I use a black semi permeable ground cloth that lets rain through, but keeps the weeds from growing. In the tomato patch I add clean straw on top, so if there is any fruit hanging low and touching the ground there is less chance of rot.
Tomorrow there will be more pruning, more weeding, continued dead heading in the perennial border and clay pots planted with annuals, the harvesting and drying of herbs, the tending of the compost pile. We’ll pick peas for supper and lettuces for salad. The zucchini plants will have surged, and, meanwhile, my first pint jars of strawberry jam cool on the kitchen counter. Come winter, when we spread the jam on toast, we’ll savor the taste of the longest day of the year.
During mid to late June, topset or stiff neck varieties of garlic send up a flower stalk called a scape. Soft neck varieties do not produce a scape and the plant tops remain supple making them ideal for braiding. The scapes appear and grow quickly out of the center of the plant forming a curl that straightens as it matures. Near the top of the scape an area swells and within a few weeks bursts open revealing a cluster of tiny seed-like bulbils.
It is generally recommended to remove the scapes soon after they appear in order to help promote bulb expansion. Even though studies have not revealed significant improvements in yields, commercial and home growers harvest scapes in their early tender stages for use in cooking. After the scape straightens and the flower top is maturing, the scape becomes tough and unappetizing.
Straight from the garden, scapes are easy to stir-fry, grill, roast or chop and blend into a pesto. Sautéed scapes are a great addition to omelets, pizza or most any dish that calls for garlic.
Judy Stevens’ Simple Garlic Scape Pesto
- 1/4 lb. garlic scapes, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1cup grated parmesan cheese
Using a blender or food processor finely chop the scapes with the olive oil. Add the cheese and serve. Makes 2 cups.