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EsalenBetween the return of the marine layer and the sight of Halloween candy in the supermarket, the first inkling of fall was in the air last night. Here in Southern California, it's a bit of a false inkling as we almost always have a heat wave in the fall. But in the community garden, with the big stars of the summer -- the tomatoes, the cucumbers and the zucchini (yes, the zucchini is still producing; at last count I had harvested 32 from that one little seedling) -- starting to wane, it does feel like time to start thinking about the transition to fall.

I feel like I'm coming at my garden from a new place as the seasons change. One thing that helped immeasurably was my attendance at an organic gardening workshop at Esalen the first week of August. One of the big takeaways was the realization of how much I had needed the disconnect that came from spending five days in a gorgeous setting ( photos above and below) away from the technology that has a tendency to overwhelm my daily life (cell phones don't work at Esalen and the wireless in the lodge is turned off at meal time). I mentioned this at one point and one of my fellow participants -- a lovely woman who has a farm outside Bogota, Colombia -- asked if I thought I would be able to keep the technology from overwhelming me again when I returned home.

EsalenThe answer was -- and is -- that I'm going to try. And my garden is a big part of that. Before I left on the trip, my garden had become one of the many entries on my to-do list and I would run by for 15 or 20 minutes to water, harvest and do any necessary trimming before rushing off to do something else. Since the workshop, I've been getting up early at least twice a week so that I can go and spend a good quality hour in the garden, a good hour of quiet time away from technology when I can just BE in the garden. After just a few weeks of this ritual, I can already feel a change in both my garden and myself.

corn in gardenWith the summer garden in full swing, I am happy to report that I have indeed been able to enjoy some of the corn I grew this year. As you may recall, in years past, the marauding squirrel has managed to get every ear just as it was ready to harvest -- once even stopping to mock me as I discovered him eating my hard-earned corn. This year, perhaps because of where the corn was planted (right on the border with my neighbor's garden and buffered by the burgeoning tomato plants) or perhaps because I had my fake crows keeping constant guard (above) or perhaps because the minute I saw corn that looked even remotely ripe I picked it, I have managed to get seven ears of corn. He got four but with the final count Ann=7 Squirrel=4, that is still a win in my book.

Other than that, the star of the garden continues to be the zucchini. I have passed the 20 zucchini (many of them huge) mark from that one little seedling given to me by a neighbor gardener and passed on my abundance to a number of friends and family members. We even enjoyed some zucchini bread (recipe here) at the 4th of July potluck in the community garden and I just posted the recipe for Sicilian-style stuffed zucchini, sent to me from a friend.

The latest news comes from the tomatoes, which are just starting to ripen. So far, I've harvested four big beautiful tomatoes from the New Zealand Pink Pear and Paul Robeson varieties. The Rose has not brought me any yet but if last year is any indication, they will come a little later than the others (and be totally worth the wait). The other two tomato plants are more of a mystery -- one was a volunteer and the other a seedling from a neighbor gardener. But both have green tomatoes on them so good-bye corn (at least garden corn) and hellooo Tomatomania.

Zucchini in the gardenAs I've said before, there's always a star in the garden and it's often one that you don't expect. At the moment, for me, it's the zucchini plant, which has morphed from a tiny seedling given to me by a fellow community gardener and put in as an afterthought into a massive plant with humongous -- the scientific term -- leaves (pictured right) and offering at least 3-4 substantially sized zucchinis a week.

The question, obviously, is just what does one DO with so many zucchinis. The answer is, just as obviously, give a lot away -- but I am also looking for ideas on what to do with them. So far, sauteing with leeks has come up, a recipe for zucchini fritters, ratatouille and various baked goods -- one friend turned the zucchini I gave her into two cakes and a good two dozen cookies (yes, from one zucchini).

Zucchini from the gardenOtherwise, in the garden, we've got tomatoes getting closer to ripening, cucumber plants getting their starts, with carrots, radishes and greens mixed in for good measure. Oh, and I'm getting about a half dozen strawberries a week from the plants I put in a year ago. Lovely bursts of happy flavor that feels like a wonderful reward each time I go to the garden. And dare I forget, I actually do have corn that looks like it might just make it. Keeping fingers crossed because, as we all know, the squirrel has taken every ear I've grown in the past few years. But it's looking good. Very good. Just hope mentioning it here doesn't automatically jinx me. Like I said, fingers crossed.

Ann garden May 12 2012 liliesI've said this many a time on this blog but there is something wonderful about returning to my community garden plot after a week away to find a new surprise. This time it was the lilies, which were in full bloom. Absolutely gorgeous. I'd planted left-over Easter Lilies two years ago and they actually didn't look like they were going to make it. Last year they were dormant and then they kind of came out of nowhere this year to the point where, well, you can see in the photo how spectacular they are.

This has been a really good year for the flowering plants in my garden. The roses have been strong for over a year, the poinsettia is still in bloom, my sweat peas were abundant and my chrysanthemums look like they'll be blooming early this year. Oh, and I'm about to have bright red poppies -- just like the poppies I saw a world away at Ephesus in Turkey (see new post on finding the familiar a world away for other fun finds on my trip).

On the fruit/vegetable side, the tomato plants are starting to take off (and were recently given a boost by a gift of horse manure from a fellow gardener), as are the strawberries, zucchini, basil, spinach, greens and, as you can see, the corn. Still now sure how I'm going to keep the marauding squirrel from absconding with my corn as it ripens. If you have any ideas, feel free to share.

spring flowersSweet peas, roses, lavender... If nothing else, spring SMELLS amazing. It doesn't look bad, either, especially when put all the bounties of the garden (and, okay, add in the ridiculously cheap daffodils from Trader Joe's) into a bouquet like this one. I have had so many sweet peas and roses from my garden that I was able to make three bouquets to put around the house together with the daffodils (and, more recently, lavender from a neighbor in the community garden) and won't be surprised if I get three more in the coming weeks. They bring a smile to my face every time I look at (or get a whiff of) them.

Tomatomania 2012The rest of the garden work this month has involved prepping the soil and putting in the first spring seedlings. My trip to Tomatomania on March 23 was quite the success. I picked up 12 varieties of heirloom tomato seedlings (only three for me, really) plus seedlings for baby spinach, basil, a Tabasco pepper and corn. Yes, corn. If you've read my accounts of the marauding squirrel eating each and very ear of corn I've ever grown, I'm a glutton for punishment and already trying to figure out what might work to keep her/him away this year. If you have any thoughts, PLEASE feel free to share.

We had a couple March storms go through (this year it came in like a lamb and went out like a lion) so I waited to put my tomato seedlings in until yesterday as we are expected to have three or four really nice sunny days in a row to help get them started. The three heirlooms I have planted in my garden are the Rose, the Paul Robeson and New Zealand Pink Pear. The others, which were passed out to various friends and family members, include Sasha's Altai, Czech's Bush, Sophie's Choice and, in the cherry variety, Chika, Aiko and Camp Joy. Spring. Sweet.

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