Real Food

What month did you say it is?


When almost every day of August behaved like it was mid-May, the nippers and the loppers should have always been in motion – but, of course they weren’t and so it’s a jungle out there in the gardens and the beds. What’s to be done?

This morning I donned my hazmat (a motley of ancient garments that covers every inch of skin except my face), drew on my gloves, picked up the nippers – again – and marched out. Before I’d traversed 40 feet of ground or been out 15 minutes, I had a haystack of green: eager, unwanted tree shoots, thorny briars, exotic giant things of unknown origin that spring up under the bird feeder. Such a month these rogues have had reaching toward the sun as the regular August rains fell. It usually resembles west Texas around here in August with lawn mowing dwindling down and the mower blade kicking up dust. “Usual” August has the weeds drooping and gardeners watering their vegetable crops giving us the illusion that we’re in control.

Not so this year when the heavens opened up and let go God’s plenty of rain on every plant there is. Just when brome grass and dandelions typically die back, in this temperate August, dandelion crowns spread 20 inches across, gleaming with dark health. Out in the grape arbor morning glory vines have woven stealthily among grape leaves blooming in purply pride. Gotcha! In a nearby bed with no props to depend on, morning glories have turned the ground into a tangled booby trap for walking gardeners. Their effrontery has no shame. They advance in their crawling armies, flaunting their power in three different colors. Gotcha.

By now the blades of my nippers are stuck together, gummed up by the succulent, thick stems of the green invaders. Creepers have had the wildest bacchanalia: wild grapevine and Virginia creeper join joyfully to take over the world. It’s a Hallelujah chorus of victory. I dare not even mention Poison Ivy, king of the creepers who somehow – frighteningly – sings the solos in this chorus. I am undone. There is so much Here here.

Hope, of course, resides in the plain fact that our veg and flowers are equally lusty. Let’s hear it for the grand and flopping flowers of late summer. Stop by the CDPL and get a fun view of how many outrageously gigantic sunflowers are being grown in backyards all over our county. Our native pollinator bed offers up borage, cosmos, and all kinds of amaranth, poppies, bachelor’s buttons galore. Zucchini stealth takes on a whole new meaning; tomatoes blow themselves up to soft-ball size. Glutted on abundance, we may fail to notice what isn’t here.

In the way of us humans, focused on a huge harvest or a new cell phone or the best new pizza place or who won last week, we may not see what is right before our eyes: our human built world may be the biggest weed patch of all.

I’m caught off guard when I realize what isn’t here this year and recently. What isn’t here are the grandaddy longlegs and the walking sticks, the moths hovering over the petunias at night, fireflies so thick the ditches looked like fireworks. Where are the praying mantises and the toads under the side-of-the-house spigots? When have you last heard a whippoorwill or a meadow lark? In the ‘50s they sold bug screens for your nice new car – to protect the grille from summer insects. One of those screens was an entomologist’s dream. Today, though, scientists report that since 1970 we have lost over 50% of our songbirds. Since we can only love what we see and we can only save beloved things, we are all called upon to help if we can. Learn ways to bring back the creatures to your patch of ground.

Right now we have plenty to eat, and while there is so much bounty on the shared plate, head on down to the Farmers’ Market (Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. to noon through September in Pike Place). Our beautiful community gardens at Christ Lutheran Church and at Nicholson School not to mention our shared Community Garden out on State Road 47 contribute hundreds of pounds of food to our foodshed each year, food often for those of us who don’t have space to grow our own. Thank those gardeners when you see them.

Well, I’d better get back out there to enjoy my guerrilla cannas and madcap moonflowers while I attack the eastern flank of our jungle where nettles have sprung up masquerading as part of the pollinator bed. And, geez, the bittersweet fall clematis has run up into the highest branches of a nearby redbud tree. Of course it has. Get out there. Fall is going to run away from us. Catch it if you can.


Dr. Helen Hudson contributes her column Real Food to the Journal Review.