Yesterday I knocked off a few tasks that were toppling into toxic territory. One of my mental quirks converts anything I’ve let become past due into something that’s impossible to tackle and I have to work like hell to cross that icky boundary and start to deal with it. A few of them got done yesterday (more are looming) and I actually cranked my head around to getting some pleasure out of it.
I neglected my garden bed of chard when the last hot spell hit about a month ago and it bolted. By now the plants had converted themselves into very tall lacy things that looked very decorative but not particularly edible. Bolting is an amazing process. Chard is normally a large broad leaf, but when it starts to bolt everything changes. I swear that it even takes the oldest leaves, the ones I could have cut and didn’t, and converts them into long narrow shapes, then shoots the central stem upward at warp speed. It then sprouts a gazillion tiny narrow leaves and little fireworks-spray flower buds that will mature into seeds.
I’m doing my best to tend my garden better than last year, which was all-around gnarly. I’d like to clear that particular bed and put chard in it again, because the mostly-filtered light worked well for chard. The invasive berry-brambles had to be fought back and I bear the scratches that rewarded me, but I did pull every last tower of bolted chard and carried them in a bundle to the front steps. Then the gleaning began, and culminated in a basket of runt chard leaves that looked very silly and tasted really good at dinnertime.
The French filmmaker Agnes Varda has a late film focussed on this process: “The Gleaners and I.” (I think Criterion’s streaming it now.) Gleaners go through what’s left after the crop has been taken in, and take what’s been missed or ignored. (Trash-pickers glean, too.) It takes time and patience, but when you need what you’re gleaning, it’s worth it.
The gray sky had cleared and I sat in the late afternoon sun taking bunch by bunch from the stack on my right, snipping the little leaves off with my fingernails, dropping them in the wicker basket to be washed, and piling the now mostly-bare stalks in the next step down to be taken to the yard-waste bin. Every stalk had at least a few thumb-sized leaves, a courageous few still had palm-sized ones, and when I finished I had a respectable basket’s worth. I think the job took half an hour, and it was a sweet sunny brainless meditation.
I took the basket to my kitchen’s deep sink, sprayed and shook, and left it to drain. I love using my woven baskets as colanders; they feel friendlier than cold metal. The baby chard steamed nicely and joined the bowl of cannellini (big white Italian beans), savory roast pork and fresh buttermilk cornbread. And now I have a garden bed empty for tilling and planting welcoming the next generation of chard.