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Ann garden Oct 2012When I mentioned that we usually get a heat wave in the fall, I didn't think it would be the whole friggin' month of September. Even now, as October gets under way, record-breaking temperatures are expected for at least the early part of the week here in Southern California. That said, it's still time for the fall garden so I've been spending my time cleaning out the waning summer crops -- tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, even the gigantor zucchini plant (which was still visible in the lower right corner below the about-to-bloom mums when this photo was taken) -- to prepare the beds for fall.

This year, I took extra care to prepare my soil using some of the techniques learned at my gardening workshop at Esalen. After pulling out all the roots and weeds, I tilled the soil, added a layer of compost and some good potting soil on top of that. I started some seeds that I already had on hand -- kale, lettuce greens and more of the Purple Osaka Mustard I grew last year -- in a small patch near the fence at the back of this photo.

With the majority of the beds still waiting, I perused seed catalogs and, so far, have sent away for spinach and arugula (two kinds) seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and onion and garlic sets from Landreth Seeds. That -- plus the usual carrots and radishes -- should give me a good start. We'll see what comes next. The fun thing about having a clean slate is the idea that anything is possible. Could there be beets in my future?

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.

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