It’s toward the end of the growing season—sometimes referred to by certain spouses around here as the “stunted season”—and it’s time to inventory the foodstuffs we successfully grew this year in our righteous little piece of planet Earth.

We did have a disturbing plethora of cherry tomatoes, documented here in another thrilling episode of Schiddygarden. But the real abundance of this year’s efforts are so aptly characterized by The Pepper.

The Pepper was the culmination of years of wishful thinking and thumbing through seed catalogs and making exclamations such as, Definitely gotta grow these Katarina Cabbages and Wow! Wouldn’t some Romanian Red Radishes be great? I don’t particularly care for cabbages and radishes, but I’m a sucker for alliteration.



But what I did want, dearly, were peppers. Sweet and mild, hot and tangy, savory and crispy. Bring on the peppers! Salsa! Si! Marinara! Si! Something French! Oui!

So we planted peppers. Poblanos, anaheims, jalapenos, Italian sweet, chocolate bell. If you’ve ever keenly anticipated the birth of your first child or the death of a wealthy relative, you know the hopes and dreams that went into those plantings. Nurtured with relatively good soil and targeted waterings that favored them over, say, any nearby growing thing, the pepper plants rose from seedlings in halting steps, as if timid and unsure. They put out pepper sprouts about the size of a half-used pencil eraser and then quit. Maybe they went on strike, I’ve heard it said that plants communicate more socially than we give them credit for. This despite well-intentioned conversations I had with our peppers that were designed to encourage and enable, using parental entreatments such as, What in the goddam hell is wrong with you?


And finally it worked! We grew The Pepper! Nearly three inches long, sporting a fetching orange-and-viridescent ensemble, The Pepper appeared unbidden in the center of the flower garden and refused to die. Over the course of the summer that plant reached nearly one foot in height as it dangled The Pepper from one spindly arm. I let it linger there well into the autumn, confident that prodigious growth was yet to occur, until finally one day Deb plucked it and set it unceremoniously on the kitchen counter. “We should eat it,” she said without a whole lot of invested emotion, “before some raccoon does.”

So we did. I chopped it up and put it in an omelet with some (delicious) store-bought canned chilis. We are now One with The Pepper.

Our abundance didn’t stop at peppers—goodness no! We also harvest eight—count ‘em eight—green onions. We had them in a salad with some (delicious) store-bought mixed greens, and they tasted very oniony. So let me say with authority, if you haven’t grown and harvested your own food, you are so missing out.


Did we fall short of expectations? Wrong question. Given the amount of neglect and ennui that attends our garden, we should be asking, How is it that our foodstuffs saw fit to survive an entire growing season? Obviously, something went right. In fact, I’m now so pumped up for next year that I’ve already ordered my seed catalogs. I’ve got my eye on some Elegant Elephant Eggplant and Kosmic Kandystripe Kale. Can’t wait!

  • John R

Surprise! Just when I thought life boiled down to mask shopping, binge streaming, binge snacking, and mucking about in the yard, along comes this tidbit: There are things in my house and garden that can kill me.

This is not exactly bad news. I’ll explain.

Yes, it’s a bummer that in The Strangest Year Ever, we’ve shaved our lives down to the bare essentials, packed a go bag, tried not to breathe, and had to keep one eye on the window to watch out for the coming Fire Tsunami. It’s exhausting.

Then this happened: Just the other day I went out into the yard to take solace in the few hearty plants that have managed to struggle through another season of neglectful good intentions, and I came across a black widow spider.

Where we live, black widows—species Latrodectus—aren’t uncommon. You don’t often spot them because they’re shy and they like to hide away in dark netherworlds, such as crawl spaces. But they’re there.

I spotted her uncharacteristically strolling along an eave. I wasn’t entirely sure it was a BW, so I captured her in a glass jar so I could check out her underbelly. Sure enough, there was the telltale red hourglass shape. My first thought was, Good Lord, is there no escape from potential danger these days?

As it turns out, there isn’t. And that’s not a bad thing.


Sure, we try to mitigate risks. We try to keep stupid moves to a minimum. We wouldn’t, for example, wear a wetsuit made entirely of raw meat and then swim in shark-infested waters. Okay, maybe if Shark Week producers offered us a stunning amount of cash, but no, the vast majority of us wouldn’t risk it.

Yet we live in a world where our self-appointed tenure at the top of the food chain can be a matter of circumstance. Risk abounds. There are times when animals such as grizzly bears, great white sharks, mountain lions, and crocodiles occupy the top spot of the food chain hierarchy and relegate some unfortunate souls to the second tier known as “lunch.”

I don’t mean to be cavalier about it (although that’s a splendid-sounding word, “cavalier”) or dismissive of others’ misfortunes. But we desperately need these amazing creatures—they’re reminders that despite the “triumph of human evolution” (Joe McCarthy and daytime TV notwithstanding), we’re not the top bananas. Occasionally, we are eaten. And bitten—a diminutive black widow spider strolling along an eave is not in awe of us.

It’s a sensibility that has a name: memento mori. That’s Latin for “remember that we die.” It’s not a doom-and-gloom slogan. It’s a call to be vibrantly alive, to enjoy, to be kind, to partake, to savor, to be humble, and to get your bulbs in the ground before winter.

So what did I do with Ms. Widow? I thought briefly of dumping her over the fence onto my neighbor’s property. Hey, what are neighbors for if not to provide a little memento mori? But those folks are too nice—well, fairly nice—so I didn’t do that. Instead, I drove her up into the woods and let her go in the deep brush where I hope she establishes a nice web and enjoys an endless supply of hapless bugs. Part of me wonders if she might find her way back to our house, like those stories of lost schnauzers who travel thousands of miles back to their hometowns. I could picture her showing up at our front door, carrying three or four tiny hobo bags on sticks slung over multiple shoulders, politely knocking and announcing, “Remember me? I’m back!”

Fun bonus fact: I found another poisonous arachnid, a spider with the curiously unhelpful name of false brown widow. Steatoda is often mistaken for a cousin of the black widow—the real brown widow—which it’s not at all. See? Anyway, it’s got some venom but not as much as a brown widow, which it isn’t. This Steatoda was under the wooden bin where I coil the garden hose. I didn’t feel compelled to capture this widow imposter and transport her to a distant locale. Instead I took her picture (above), eased the bin back down so as not to squish her, and thought, “Live long and prosper, little Stea!”

Stay safe everybody!

  • John R

It’s the doldrums of summer (in so many ways, n'est-ce pas?) and time to point with a certain amount of pride to the things that are tres manifique in our garden, namely Leontodon.

Why the French? Hey, pourquoi pas? Anyway, once you get started on www.translate.google.com it’s hard to stop. Especially in a doldrum.


Back to Leontodon (and not a moment too soon). This perky little yellow-topped flower grows like a weed. That’s because it is a weed. In our yard it enjoys a certain late-season dominance mostly because I don’t feel like weeding and also because we’re PC and we let our grass go dormant on account of we don’t want to use up too much water because the Colorado River is drying up. We are not connected to the Colorado River system, in fact we’re hundreds of miles away, but we live in an arid summertime climate and it’s the thought that counts. Bonus: I don’t have to mow it, either, not that I feel like it.

So we let our grass endure a slow and tortuous moisture starvation until it’s as dry and crispy as a fresh-out-of-the-bag Tim’s salt-and-vinegar potato chip (mmm!) This deliberately conscious water-conserving decision—some would say neglect—turns our yard into a crunchy brown wasteland by August.


Almost.

To the botanical rescue gallops Leontodon, drought-defiant, stubborn, broad-leafed and well-deserving of its reputation as a crappy weed. No self-respecting homeowner would allow such a plethora of botanical low-lifes to populate their lawn (we have hundreds). However, in my defense I must say that sitting in the shade of the front porch eating whole wheat flakes with blueberries and yogurt and watching honeybees land on Leontodon flowers so that even their tiny bee-weight causes Leontodon’s long stems to bend and swing in wild arcs so the bees have to hang on like little rodeo riders is pretty good doldrum entertainment.

Leontodon is often called a “false dandelion” and that’s a claim to fame for a buttload of other plants: Hypochaeris radicata, Agoeris, Crepis, Hieracium, Nothocalais, Pyrrhopappus, and of course Scorzoneriodes (but you knew that). Several of these other species have made the noxious weed lists of various states, so you can get a good idea of the type of plant we’re dealing with here.

Cute Wikipedia fact: Leontodon is also called “hawksbits” because back in mediaeval times it was thought that hawks ate Leontodon to improve their eyesight. Apparently, you can make up any historical fact as long as you attribute it to mediaeval times.

Want another Wikipedia amazement: Try this: “Recent research has shown that the genus Leontodon in the traditional delimitation is polyphyletic. Therefore, the former Leontodon subgenus Oporinia was raised to generic level.”

Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. That kind of stuff will set you right back into a doldrum. Time to pour some flakes, shake out the blueberries, and watch bees ride some wild Leontodon.



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