Peacocks have a passion for tomatoes. Mockingbirds and squirrels like them, too, so don't leave your tomatoes out on a picnic table to redden. When the first eagerly awaited tomatoes ripens, eating them warm and juicy right in the garden is one of summer's greatest joys. Then, of course, they come fast and hard, and soon you've got them by the bagful, the boxful, trying to give them away to all your neighbors who also have too many to eat.
Get a small, neat basket, preferably from the People's Republic of China (they make the best fireworks in the world, and their baskets are equal works of art), fill it with perhaps a dozen luscious tomatoes, take it to work and put a little sign on it saying "Tomatoes -- 25 cents each, proceeds to be donated to Panda Propagation Research" -- everybody believes in that. They'll go like hotcakes. Make sure you take home any left over, though: You'd be amazed how fast fruitflies can breed in even the most sterile office. IN A PICKLE: Even though we've had a fair amount of rain lately, make sure you keep your cucumbers watered. About 70 percent water themselves, they need quite a bit to thrive. With the hose mouth-down at the base of the vines, soak the ground; add mulch to prevent evaporation and enrich the soil. On Sunday pick off all ready cukes. The little ones for French cornichon shouldn't exceed thumb length and the larger ones should be harvested before they turn yellow. Let them rest overnight and Monday, after dinner, pickle them while you watch "Lou Grant." They're easy to pickle, and if you do only a half-dozen or so at a time you can still be in bed as the 11 o'clock news ends. THAT'S AN ORDER: After you've cut some zinnias for the table, rest and look at the visions of tulips blooming and crosuses and narcissus poking their little heads through the snow in the catalogues arriving now. But take it easy: Late-summer bulb planting is not the easiest thing. Usually you're not going to be working with the loose loam you might find in a vegetable garden. Just a few clumps of these spring-blooming bulbs scattered around the base of shrubs and small trees put on a lovely show. You may not find clematis in the fall catalogue, but consider ordering it from last spring's one: September and October are the best time to plant them. Order peonies now, too. Putting them in during autumn makes for hardy, healthy plants that will flower the first spring. If you're out of sugar snap peas, order them quickly -- or, better still, head out to a hardware or garden store and see if you can't pick up a quarter-pound in the next few days. They should go in very soon for fall harvesting. HERB HINTS: For optimum drying of herbs, harvest them before they reach full bloom. Tie in smallish clumps and place in plastic or paper bags, then hang them stems up from the ceiling. As they dry, leaf pieces will fall into the bags. This also protects them from dust and retains maximum flavor. After about two weeks, crumble the leaves into the bags, discard stems and store leave in jars. You can also put herbs in a vase and change the water often; they'll fill your kitchen with aroma. Pinch a leaf or two as you enter the room. Put them on the table for diners to pluck and add to dishes along with salt and pepper. REAPING WHAT YOU SOW: Take up onions when the ground is dry and the tops drooped and turn light brown. Also shallots and garlic. Squash is abundant, so keep it picked when still fairly small. Summer squash can be picked as soon as the blossom has shriveled and died.