Of Strawberries And Snap Peas

For days now we’ve been picking actual bowls full of strawberries. Not just a few — I spent what felt like forever before that scouring the strawberry patches, hoping to find at least four ripe ones so that everyone in the family could savor one. But now we are in a time of plenty. Every afternoon I go out and fill my bowl with berries, and that’s even with the voracious appetites of my little “helpers.” We munch on berries throughout that day and the next morning, and then I hull the remainder and put them in the freezer, emptying the bowl for the next picking session.

Already we have a gallon of frozen strawberries tucked away, and it’s only been a few days. They’ll be used for jam, for smoothies, maybe to soothe a December craving for strawberry shortcake. Who knows? I’m hungry for whatever I can get.

If it sounds like I’m gloating over my good fortune, I absolutely am. I adore berries, and this careful shepherding of the plants — weeding, mulching, thinning, watering — makes the moment that each dark red berry snicks off in my hard all the sweeter. Which is not to say that I’ve turned down any berries from the plants that colonized our yard. Unlike their pampered progenitors, they’ve been mowed, weed-whacked, stepped on, and generally abused. They’ve still managed to produce a few good berries, which I’ve stolen from them without the faintest qualm.

Other than the greens that we’ve been harvesting since February, our other major crop right now is snap peas. Most of these come from the big patch of vines that I planted last November. They overwintered like a charm and are currently trying to drown me in snap peas. So far, between stir fries, side dishes and pickles, I am managing to keep afloat. (Best experiment so far: caramelized strips of onion, then add some garlic, snap peas, salt and pepper, and a little white wine to quickly steam the peas — only a little! Leave them crisp!)

A small portion of our harvest, though, has come from my hanging basket experiment. I’ve always loved the concept of hanging baskets, but mine have always died. When it comes to the heat of summer, I just don’t water them as often as they need. This is particularly true because hanging baskets tend to be full of flowers rather than vegetables, and if I get into a crunch, the vegetables have priority for my attention.

So this year I tried a new concept (for me, at least): snap pea hanging baskets. My theory was that 1) they would be edible, so I would care more, and 2) they would finish producing just as the really hot weather rolled in, so I would take them down and not have to deal with them over the summer. They have been a limited success for me. I have been getting snap peas, although smaller and fewer than the ones from my gigantic patch in back. The lettuces that I planted in the middle of the baskets have stayed stunted, so the baskets aren’t particularly decorative, although the pea plants are nicely lush. The peas didn’t exactly cascade, though, the way I’d envisioned. So I’m not certain whether I’ll try it again. There are a variety of edible hanging basket ideas out there; maybe I need to experiment with some other plants instead.

Not all is rosy in the garden. In particular, the children are not currently allowed to be unsupervised in the back yard, because they’ve discovered the joy of pulling out my little corn seedlings. (I can feel my jaw clench as I type that.) Also, unless something drastically alters soon, this may be The Year Without Carrots. But overall I spend my time savoring strawberries (and the first raspberries!) rather than worrying over the empty carrot patch.

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