Lessons learned during my summer of “doing”

Even though it’s still August and the growing season stretches out in front of us until October (and, truly, all winter for certain things), I can see the signs that production is waning – yellowing cucumber leaves, powdery mildew on the zucchini plants, sunflowers that are toppling over. I have more food in jars on my shelves than I do in my garden. The 100+ degree days are (hopefully) behind us, and I’m starting to look forward to cozy fall and winter nights with a soup on the stove and a pie in the oven.

I’ve learned a lot about how to grow and process food in a hot climate. For example:

  • Crops that aren’t even planted in June in Seattle are already bolting in Mendocino. Accept the new reality of your fast-bolting world.
  • There is no such thing as too many tomatoes (even if your boyfriend prohibits you from planting more).
  • There is such a thing as too many cucumbers.
  • Separate spicy and sweet peppers in the garden. Also… one spicy pepper plant is enough.┬áHaving lived in a climate where peppers refuse to grow, this was a new crop to me.
  • Grow basil and zucchini in the ground, not in pots.
  • It’s okay if the occasional food goes to waste – the cilantro will bolt, a few cucumbers will get so big they become bitter, and a lot of fruit will end up on the ground. DON’T PANIC. Life goes on.
  • Sometimes you have to stand over a hot stove in an already-sweltering kitchen if you want to preserve your goods. Food doesn’t wait for cooler temperatures.
  • Your refrigerator will hold more jars of pickles than you think.

garden bounty

My biggest struggle this summer has been doing vs. documenting. I remember an old coworker of mine saying (during a tight production timeline) that she had time to “create processes and documents about how the work should be done, or do the work itself, but not both.”

I love to document things. I like to take pictures and make lists, write notes and save recipes with any modifications I made. In Seattle, Katie and I would draw a garden map and keep a journal with when things sprouted, flowered, and produced food; what worked and what didn’t; and all the new words and skills Jacob was learning along the way. I love that those journals exist.

This year, I did none of that. I didn’t draw a garden map. I didn’t take notes on what worked and what didn’t. All I have to guide me next year will be my notoriously faulty memory – we’ll see how I do.

What I got for my lack of documentation were a lot of agenda-free evenings in the yard, digging and deadheading and weeding and planting and harvesting whatever was ready. I can’t tell you how many successions of radishes we planted because I didn’t write it down, but I can tell you we’ve had a constant supply of them and they keep forever in the fridge. Releasing myself from the requirement to capture what I was doing and simply DOING it was quite freeing.

Of course, next year I hope to keep a garden journal, if I can get my act together. Old habits die hard…

jars of food


Titan, King of the Sunflowers

Carson took it upon himself to plant sunflowers in every nook and cranny of our garden. Most of them didn’t take, but we had plenty of seeds to go around thanks to Susan sharing a dried head from last year, plus a few packets we had already bought, so we just kept sticking them in places and seeing what they did.

Sunflowers are a great late-season food source for bees, so they were a natural in our yard. We have quite a few…

small sunflower

…but only one Titan. Here he is, towering over everything:

big sunflower

See it here, its head already bent?

Carson sunflowerIt was slowly bending more and more, until I got home on Thursday to find this sad sight:

big sunflower 1

Magically, it did not crush any of the tomatoes, peppers, or beans in its trajectory. My friends Katy and Casey were visiting from Seattle on a whirlwind trip, and they helped me document this sucker. Cutting it was like sawing through the trunk of a small tree. If we’re a little over five feet tall, this must be about 12-13 feet with the head straightened out:

big sunflower 2

All the seeds were perfectly, beautifully formed. Turns out the birds are more interested in eating the leaves for dinner than they are the seeds, which I don’t mind because it’s actually quite sweet seeing little birds perched on giant leaves pecking away, and it doesn’t seem to do the sunflowers any harm. (Ingenious of the sunflower to bow its head in such a way that only the very determined could eat it.)

big sunflower 3

Between our garden, Susan’s garden, and the community garden plot we share, there are dozens of sunflowers to harvest. I’m trying to decide if I want to save the seeds for eating, or give them away on Freecycle for planting next year. Thoughts?

My absence explained: vacation!

After Carson came home from the hospital, he had exactly one week to recover before my parents came to visit. The first few days were rough but he turned a corner on day four and was almost totally back to his normal self by the time my parents rolled up. We were their last leg on a two-week road trip through California. They spent a weekend with us, which was lovely, and then I hopped in the car with them and we drove to Seattle via the Oregon coast. I spent eight days in Seattle before flying home three days ago, which is why I haven’t been posting. I mostly stayed hidden inside my parents’ house, working for two big clients, making major progress on my Gramma’s life story book (thanks Dad!), eating great food (thanks Mom!), and relaxing with some quality HGTV. Other than a BBQ I hardly saw anyone, so if you didn’t know I was in Seattle please don’t be offended. It’s hard to see everyone, every time.

Enough words. Here’s what I did in photos!

Rivino 1

Gathered friends at Rivino on my parents’ first night in Ukiah for some knee-slapping twangy music, bright glasses of Chardonnay, and a picnic.

Rivino 2

Mary Anne with my parents Mike and Mary

Carson fair

Went to the Redwood Empire Fair, where Carson’s 4H bee club had a first-prize booth.

Tractor pull

Watched the tractor pull at the fair. Three hours of hilarious entertainment!


Carson and my mom made salsa using tomatoes, peppers, and cilantro from the garden. It was muy delicioso.


Stopped in Florence, Oregon on our way up the coast to Seattle. We stayed at a sweet little hotel right on the river.

sand dunes 1

Went for a dune buggy ride in Florence. It was like a roller coaster! (We’re in the back row.)

sand dunes 2

The sand dunes are huge – miles and miles of rolling, sandy hills with scrubby brush. The day started foggy…

sand dunes 3

…but by the end of the hour-long ride the fog was lifting.


Had lunch at the Tillamook Cheese Factory. You can tell by our oversized smiles that we’re starting to crack after so much time in the car.

Amber planetarium

Once in Seattle, I went on a lovely date with Amber. We hit up the PhinneyWood Summer Days festival where a store hosted the UW’s giant inflatable planetarium. We watched an informative 15 minute show.

Eli Vietnamese

After the Summer Days fair we headed to Broadway, got lucky with a parking spot, and devoured bowls of Vietnamese food. Here I am, post-“bun” (my favorite – a cold noodle salad with meat).

Amber vertical garden

We walked around Capitol Hill and noticed this beautiful mural – which Amber’s friend painted! – along with a newly installed vertical garden with rain gutters to water it. Sometimes I forget how cool Seattle is.

Archers arching

Had a family BBQ in which my brother brought a bow he MADE. My mom was a pretty good shot. (You know, just a bunch of Archers being Archers.)


Had a friend BBQ hosted by Jacob and Abby at their West Seattle home. The weather was perfect, the grill plentiful, and the company pleasant (and, at times, raucous).


Jacob the grill master at work, with a view that won’t quit behind him.

Edmonds lunch

Enjoyed a patio lunch with longtime family friend Barb and my mom at my favorite Edmonds waterfront restaurant, Anthony’s Beach Cafe. (Also spent an afternoon with the Sweeneys – more family friends – but alas, took no pictures.)


Wrapped up my trip with a dinner and overnight at KMJ’s home. Here’s Jacob eagerly awaiting dinner.


Nothing like ending a Seattle trip at one of my Seattle homes! Plus they’re close to the airport so I don’t feel like too much of a burden when I need a ride.